Castles & Crusades Diary: Dragonclaw Barony, Session 13

After three sessions the adventurers manage to capture the Elven Thief Valanunthe after an epic battle that lasted over an hour, and they only barely survived since five of the seven adventurers had been rendered unconscious!

Game Diary:
When we left off last time the party was split into three groups, in the first group Juhraveal the half-elf rogue and Magnus the gnome druid had been charmed by kobold illusionists masquerading as gnomes. In the second group, Sir Sandwyche the paladin, Gwar the half-orc barbarian, Eliam the half elf cleric/wizard, and Malcolm the human wizard had been rendered unconscious by a color spray and woke up without armor, weapons, and equipment in a 10 foot pit with a bugbear guard keeping an eye on them from above. And in the third group we had Bitters the dwarven cleric/fighter, Tobias, the human ranger, and Endur the human fighter keeping an eye on Valanunthe’s room unaware that the other group members had been captured. In actual fact, the three players who run Bitters, Endur, and Tobias were unable to game last time so it was decided to leave them behind in the room to explore and guard it. With the other two groups ending up last session in a state of charm, or imprisoned in a pit, this third group now ended up being one of the only chances for them to escape!

Trying to run three different groups will always be a challenge, but this ended up working out. The three characters in Valanunthe’s room were back this week and they chose to have their characters trace their friend’s tracks from last time. Following their trail they discovered bound up dwarven mercenaries (Urias and Cagbral), who their friends had tied-up, gagged, and blindfolded. They were ungagged and questioned, and the dwarves tried to barter for their freedom but this group, like their friends before them, didn’t buy it and re-gagged them and moved on. Exploring the corridors for their friends they came to a door and when they opened it a fire trap went off scorching Bitters, Tobias, and Endur’s faces and once the fire and smoke cleared at the doorway Valanunthe and four hobgoblins with bows fired at them.

Valanunthe showdown. Valanunthe and her four hobgoblins were in the southern portion of the room (10), The players were in the top left doorway and 10E corridor.

Switching to Juhraveal and Magnus, the illusions and disguises of the kobolds faltered, Magnus made his saving throw vs. the illusion, saw them for what they were, and since he was at the doorway to their room, grabbed Juhraveal by the collar, yanked her out, shut the door, shoved a dart in the lock mechanism to keep it shut, and then headed down the hallway. They made a couple of turns, saw a flash of light as flames reflected off the stone walls in the distance, heard the shouts of pain from their friends, and headed to their aid.

We then switching to the characters in the bugbear pit, where Sir Sandwyche and Gwar convinced the bugbear that he needed to speak with Valanunthe. As soon as he left the room the barbarian (Gwar) easily climbed the pit, shut the door to the room, and grabbed equipment.

Bugbear (art from D&D4E Conceptopolis)

Returning to the battle with Valanunthe, Juhraveal and Magnus joined Tobias at the doorway while Bitters and Endur charged into the room. Valanunthe took on Bitters and Endur in melee while the two hobgoblins on either side of her fired their bows at the Ranger, Rogue, and Druid in the doorway. The battle was tough, for although the hobgoblins missed most of their initial bow attacks, Valanunthe took down Bitters with her powerful blows (she wore the Amulet of the Fist which enhances her strength), and repeated her action when she rendered Bitters unconscious in a previous encounter, giving him a little wink as he fell to the ground unconscious at -3hp. Moments later Endur slumped to the ground at -1hp. Magnus rushed into the room to see if his friends needed healing, but the Druid was rendered unconscious as well.

While this battle was going on inside the room, the bugbear arrived to speak with his leader, saw the combat and snuck up behind the paladin, barbarian, and ranger, and attacked them (area 10E in the diagram). With bow fire from the hobgoblins in the room and the bare fists of the bugbear, the ranger fell.

Seeing the threat was nearly over, Valanunthe motioned for the four hobgoblins to tie up the four downed characters while she took on the final barbarian and paladin with her bugbear. As she approached doorway and looked around the corner where the bugbear fought the Gwar and Sir Sandwyche, she saw the bugbear go down. It was now them vs. Valanunthe and as she fought the hobgoblins paused in tying up of the unconscious characters and approached her as the the final two adventurers rendered her unconscious. The hobgoblins were not expecting her to fall, and closed for combat, but a might blow from Gwar dismembered the leg of the hobgoblin leader, Gwar then intimidated the remaining three hobgoblins, and failing their morale check they fled to the door in the north east corner. The players had somehow prevailed!

This was a combat with many highs and lows. Initially the hobgoblins missed their attacks and some characters charged in, then one by one characters dropped to between -1 and -3 hit points. Seven characters were reduced to just two, so it made sense to think that Valanunthe was going persevere, and then, miraculously, the tide of battle shifted and in short succession the bugbear brute, Valanunthe, and the hobgoblin leader went down, shaking the remaining three hobgoblins who were not expecting such a tide shift in fortune.

Everything is now complete and the adventurers somehow managed to become victorious! Or did they? Eliam and Malcolm began this adventure in the bugbear pit unconscious (player who portrays them couldn’t make this game, so to explain his absence it was decided they were unconscious). Are they still okay? And what about the six kobolds that Juhraveal and Magnus escaped from? Can a dart stuck in a door lock really put six very intelligent kobolds out of action? (remember that in my world kobolds are the corruption of the gnomes, and as such they are master illusionists as well as being masters of traps). Where are the kobolds and what are they doing? We find out in the next game!

Philosophy and Outreach

I think Philosophy is the most profound discipline. I learned so much about the world and myself on my journey to completing my PhD, and it is the accomplishment I am most proud of in my life. Yet during my time in graduate school I began to feel a distance from the discipline as I came to view far too many philosopher detached from real world engagement. When I expressed these views I was told every discipline needs people who can chisel away at the edges where you may not find direct application in the real world. There is truth to that, but from my perspective too many academic philosophers were doing this.

As I’ve read about philosophy departments being reduced in numbers or even being shutdown, I feel sadness at the loss for the philosophers and that of the students who may now never have the opportunity to see the world in a new way. And yet with so many philosophers not engaging with the public and demonstrating the relevance and vital importance of their discipline to lived life, there is a part of me that thinks this may be a good thing in the long run, perhaps it can shake the discipline enough to actually go out and demonstrate its importance. The great philosophers of the past engaged with the people and places of their times and had impact on their society (e.g. Socrates, Plato, Locke, Russell, Sartre), more need to do it in our time.

In the half decade since I’ve moved on from academia I still do a lot of reading, but I am surprised how much smaller a portion of my reading time is dedicated to philosophy. At any given time I have several philosophy books in my large academic library which I’ve partially pulled out from the surrounding books on the shelf to remind myself to sit down when I have a free moment and dip into them. Yet when the free time comes I usually find myself reaching other books. My field of specialty was in 4EA Cognition (Embedded, Embodied, Enactive, Extended, and Affective). The field emerged in the early 90’s, and when I jumped into it from 2007-2014 there was a large amount of time spent arguing how the 4 E’s and the A should be defined. This is an area which could have important applications in areas like education, psychotherapy, and sport when it comes to how we teach, learn, navigate, and dwell in the world, and yet I struggle to see much real-world application being done in this area.

Still, there are a few academic philosophers who get together with others outside their discipline to examine the challenges of our time, and the DailyNous blog post linked below discusses some of these gatherings as well as a recent eBook made available for free called Pandemic Ethics.

“If philosophy is to thrive, it must be sensitive and responsive to the world it is meant to engage with. The non-philosophers in our reading group shed light on a world that may be difficult for us philosophers to see and point out aspects of  lived experiences that we may not have access to.”

Castles & Crusades: Barowmaze Campaign, Session 38

The Army of the Light battle a mighty and frightening bog monster in the Barrowmoor spawned by the churning forces of chaos pouring forth from the Pit of Chaos in the Barrowmaze.

Game Diary:
Two players that stepped away from the game in March when Covid ended face-to-face meetings rejoined the game tonight in our current Discord setup and brought with them their great characters that have been missing these last few months:
Kyra – Elven Cleric of Sehanine (Elven/Celtic)
Seraphina – Elven Wizard of Sehanine (Elven/Celtic)
Chonk – Half-Orc Barbarian/Cleric of The Morrigan (Celtic)

The Army of the Light was in Bogtown recovering from their previous adventure fighting wyverns and negotiating with Neanderthals for the release of peat gatherers. Quite by their surprise their old friends entered the Toasty Troll Tavern after more than 9 months away and told them the elves of the Wyrdwood had been getting attacked and killed at a point where the Wyrdwood met the Barrowmoor by a monstrous and mysterious creature augmented by pure chaos. The adventures grabbed their mounts and headed off to help!

The Toasty Troll Tavern in Bogtown (art from Barrowmaze Complete)

They departed Bogtown during a massive downpour and thunderstorm, which reduced their travel by more than half through the forest and swamp. As a result they needed to camp for the evening before starting again the next day. As the storm passed four hungry sabre-toothed cats entered their camp to attack. The battle could’ve been rough, but a well placed color spray from Gnoosh, the gnome rogue/illusionist, sped up their success.

Sabre-toothed cat

The rest of the night passed uneventfully and within an hour after breaking camp the next day they found the area where the bog beast should be, but their observation skills were not as robust enough to detect it. Almost too late two tentacles rose from the swampy brown and mossy muck and began constricting Llewelyn, the Elven Cleric/Wizard, and Belden, the Gnome Bard. It was a tight squeeze for the two and they knew they were not strong enough to break free. The remaining group of 11 characters got to work with their axes, arrows, maces and polearms striking the tentacles and the strange undulating body that resembled decayed vegetable matter. The bludgeoning weapons did no damage, and the slashing and piercing did less than they should have, and all this was in spite of the fact most were magical – it made no difference! As the fighting types tried their best to slowly wear it down, Llewelyn and Belden noticed that it was slowly healing itself! The spellcasters got to work. A blast of fire shot forth from one Elf’s circlet, engulfing it in flames – no effect! Another Elven Wizard brought down an ice storm pummeling it with ice shards and snow. Some damage. Gnoosh summoned the whiplike tendrils of his dark chaos – it did something! It was a slow slog, the clerics in the groups gathered near Llewelyn and Belden and healed them as they continued to get constricted, and the warriors and wizards slung weapons and spells at it until finally it went down. And then they continued attacking it to make sure it was dead!

The shambling bog monster of chaos

Much treasure was found within the fleshy folds of its body – over a thousand gold, gems, a suit of magical ring mail, a magical mace, and an intact bird cage(!) among other things. The group picked up the dead elven bodies the creature had left in its path, delivered them to the elves in the Wyrdwood, and an incredible funeral took place in the ancient tree citadels in which they dwelled (although only the elves could participate, the others were only able to hear the howls of sorry for the loss followed by the music and celebration of their lives from an encampment just outside the elven territory).

The next morning the Army of the Light returned to Bogtown, and from there Ironguard Motte to identify their magic items and prepare to return to the Barrowmaze. The Pit of Chaos, which they swore to destroy with their Fount of Law artifact, needs to be done now. The dangerous aberrations which it is creating is causing too much destruction not just within the Barrowmaze, but in the surrounding areas above. Next week they enter the Barrowmaze to confront this epic opening into pure Chaos – what will they find??

Greek & Roman History (and Gaming)

Although I am a philosopher (Ph.D.), I love history, and although my emphasis in recent years has been largely medieval history and folklore, my academic beginnings were born in classical civilizations (B.A.). For the last few days I have gone back to some of the great historians of Greece and Rome and revisited them, exploring their views of what history meant to them, and the different methods they employed to present it to their audience.

Herodotus (c.484 to c.425 BCE).
The earliest historians of the Greeks and Romans viewed the subject of history more broadly than today (the word history comes from the Greek word historia meaning ‘inquiry’ or ‘investigation,’ it would not be until later when subjects were more rigidly separated). What I love about reading someone like Herodotus is his strong sense and love of the marvelous. He happily includes references to mythological beings in his work. There are also dramatic themes of justice and retribution in the stories he tells. Yet, because he also traveled widely, there is a sense of familiarity with the places he describes. His Histories cover the Greco-Roman Wars of 499-449 BCE, an era that I find remarkably interesting.

Thucydides (c.460 to c.400 BCE).
Whereas Herodotus recreated scenes from the past, with Thucydides we have a historian who lived through what he wrote about (the Peloponnesian War, 431-404 BCE). His writing deemphasizes the mythological (there is less reference to gods and oracles). Yet, like so many Greeks of his time, he explored the moral issues and conflicts that were integral to politics (I enjoy this as a Philosopher). Thucydides’ points of reference are individual events and persons, and from there he moves to a total of their interrelationships. For him knowledge for its own sake was meaningless – knowledge must lead to understanding. Finally, another view he had was that human nature was predictable. This is why you see authors of this period repeat certain morality tales as they move through centuries of time, for if human nature is predictable, then repeating a moral lesson would seem reasonable (think of the view that “history repeats itself”). The Peloponnesian War sees the loss of Greece as a regional power. It is another period of history I enjoy because there is – as Thucydides wanted his readers to contemplate – a moral consideration of the actions and results of the different actors in this struggle.

Polybius (c.200 BCE – c.118 BCE).
Polybius shifts how we should view history. He viewed history on a larger canvas. Polybius was one of the first to make use of a ‘universal history’ approach. He stepped away from writing about a series of unrelated episodes and instead thought that all these different events have a relationship and contribute towards a single endpoint (effectively what Plato and Aristotle came up with in their philosophy, Polybius was making use of for his universal history). In Polybius we also have a historian who drew upon his personal experiences to write his history and was not just comparing other people’s writings. His Rise of the Roman Empire covers the Punic Wars (264-146 BCE, another period I enjoy reading about.

Livy (59 BCE – 17 CE).
His historical events were explained by looking at the character of the people involved, with short speeches representing the climax of each moral episode. There is a unique conflict in his writing, in that he says the current state of Rome is a direct consequence of the failure of moral character, yet at the same time he thought Rome was at the peak of its power and achievements. Livy thought the way to overcome this tension was to study ‘character’ throughout history and look for the warnings and examples in your own time and place. The Early History of Rome covers the founding of Rome (754 BCE) to the expulsion of the Kings (509 BCE). There is some great history/mythology to enjoy here, allowing us a window into how the Romans viewed their origins. Even though some of this “history” is a historical and mythological borrowing from other cultures and renaming them, it is still instructive in how a culture can invent (reinvent?) itself.

Tacitus (c.56 CE – 117 CE)
Tacitus provides a look at historical characters for their own sake. The reader is to understand them, not to simply condemn or praise them like you find with some of his predecessors. The Annals cover Tiberius to Nero (14 CE to 68 CE), and The Histories cover the death of Nero to Domitian (69 CE to 116 CE). I must admit this era is much less interesting to me. In part it might be because when I was pursuing my B.A. in classical civilizations, I had to learn Latin, and I genuinely struggled with it. Also, although the Romans were quite inventive from an engineering perspective with the incredible structures they built, so much of their history, religion, and philosophy is simply taken from the Greeks (and others) and altered, so beyond engineering and military conquests, I don’t find as much of interest with the Romans from this point forward.

Gaming Applications
Beyond the enjoyment of reading and learning about how history was viewed and presented, as well as the entertainment value of getting pulled into these stories of the Persians, Greeks, Spartans, Carthaginians, and Romans, there is also the many ways I can make use of them for gaming.

First, there is the rich variety of names, personalities, and unique plots and subplots that can be made use of for an adventure or even entire campaigns. The fact that so many of the Greek historians were presenting and examining the moral character of these historical figures and the results of their actions opens endless opportunities for challenging players.

Second, and more specifically to my campaigns, there are the ways some of the cultures in my world can tie in with what I am reading in these books. For example, hobgoblins in my world are a corruption of humans, and I am interested in tying them in with a strict, Roman, militaristic emphasis. The Romans went where they wanted and took what they needed. They were also masterful engineers, building epic buildings proclaiming their greatness, and had what seemed at times a never-ending confidence in themselves. I would like to examine the darker side of that through the lens of hobgoblin culture and hobgoblin empires. That is also why you see a book in the picture above on The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire, it was a book I read for a Roman history class that covers quite extensively Roman military history (with lots of diagrams of formations). Think again of Livy’s tension between the failure of moral character he saw in his time, yet also claiming that they were at the peak of their power and achievement. I would love to examine this tension more closely in an open and creative gaming environment.

Castles & Crusades: Barrowmaze Campaign, Session 37.

The Army of the Light attacked by Wyverns in the Barrowmoor and negotiate with Neanderthals for the release of peat gatherers from Bogtown.

Barrowmaze Dramatis Personae:
Cobalt – Human Paladin of St. Agathos (Crusader Kingdoms)
Arthur – Human Oathsworn of Celestian (Crusader Kingdoms)
Gnoosh – Gnome Rogue/Illusionist of Arcanus (Celtic/Norse/Crusader Kingdoms)
Llewelyn – Cleric/Wizard of Sehanine (Elven/Celtic)
Gimli – Dwarven Berserker of Odin (Norse)
Cyron – Human Cleric of Charon (Classical)
Belden – Gnome Bard of Aengus (Celtic)
Kiaria – Human Seeker of Bast (Egyptian)
Zen – Human Monk of St. Agathos (Crusader Kingdom)
Ria – Human Pacer of Loki (Norse)
Martin – Human Rogue of Bacchus (Classical)
Thaddeus – Half-Elf (human lineage) Fighter/Rogue of Bacchus (Classical)
Eathelflath – Elf Rune Master (Erilaz) of Sehanine (Elven)
Balthazar – Elf Wizard of Arcanus (Celtic/Norse/Crusader Kingdoms)
Gorgat – Half-Orc Barbarian of Hephaestus (Classical)
Noro – Human Warrior Priest of Hyperion (Crusader Kingdom)
James – Human Arcane Thief of Arcanus (Celtic/Norse/Crusader Kingdoms)
Remi – Gnome Harlequin (Rogue/Illusionist) of Hermes (Classical)
Rosaline – Half-Elf (elf lineage) Druid of Daghda (Celtic)

Game Diary:
Choosing to take a break from the Barrowmaze, the Army of the Light left Ironguard Motte and headed to Bogtown to see what other equipment they could procure on the blackmarket (Bogtown is said to be the central location of the Shadow Thieves), as well as to pick up rumors of adventure. Upon arrival Cobalt, the paladin, headed to The Toasty Troll Tavern and met Herik Anguson, Ironguard’s designate in the village (Gnoosh, the accomplished gnome rogue-illusionist watched his back in this shady place). The paladin, so used to being admired and respected, was a bit taken aback by the response. It was difficult enough for Herik in Bogtown, since the people here wanted to be as far as possible from the laws and regulation of the Ironguard family that runs the Duchy. So when asked if there was anything Cobalt could do for Herik, he replied in a low voice that to be seen working with a paladin in this village would cause him to loose further influence and respect with the people, so no thank you.

The Duchy of Aerik, home to the Barrowmaze (map from Barrowmaze Complete, 2014).

Luckily, the other group members went to a market outside The Broken Buckler Trade Goods store and perused weapons and armor. There Kiaria, the Seeker of Bast, caught the attention of a man named Alzo Danuth. She inquired into leather armor of a higher quality than what she could find in the outdoor stalls and he led her into a back room where she was presented with a expertly crafted piece of leather armor. He shook her hand, happy to make her acquaintance, and they went about their way. Belden, the Bard inquired into upgrading this piccolo and heard that some peat gatherers had been taken by some Neanderthals in the area, and if he wanted to get a much finer crafted piccolo, he would have to find out what the Neanderthals did to that group. Once the rest of the group purchased what they wanted, they headed back to The Toasty Troll.

Cobalt and Gnoosh exited The Toasty Troll just as Alzo Danuth (who had just left after his meeting with Kiaria) walked by with a colleague of his and smiled, winked, and waved in a friendly manner at the paladin. But Gnoosh, being a rogue versed in thieves’ cant, realized a message was being sent directly to him with those hand signals and body language: “you are being watched.”

The group realized they needed a guide for this trip into the bog, and their normal Hobbit ranger Conwrick Pimkin was busy, so they recruited a Druid named Lugal-Urudu, a human worshipper of Anu (Mesopotamian god of the sky, mysticism, and creation). With him as their guide they went on their way into the peat bogs west of Bogtown. Almost immediately a group of six wyverns came swooping in from the sky, attracted by the shiny armor of Cobalt and Arthur. Several people were immediately physically weakened by the powerful poisonous stings of these beasts, made worse by the fact that the wyverns were almost always attacking first each round (I rolled a 10 on my d10 for the first three rounds of combat!). But they managed a comeback, and after the battle ended Cobalt and Lugal-Urudu removed the poison from their system.

Wyvern (art from

Lugal-Urudu eventually led them to an elevated cave in the swamp where the Neanderthals dwelled. Belden went forth to speak with the Neanderthal leader (luckily, he and his witch doctor were able to communicate in broken Common). The Army of the Light had picked up some treasure from the Wyverns earlier, and although the adventurers almost always roll their eyes when they hear about copper pieces, they were perhaps a bit surprised when the Neanderthal leader took an interest in the pieces of copper. After some tense negotiations (more than three dozen Neanderthal warriors had surrounded the group during these “talks”), the Neanderthal leader exchanged the 11 peat gatherers in exchange for 600 copper pieces, the piccolo, and they told Belden that their people should never enter their area of the bog again.

Returning to Bogtown, the group settled in for a few days to heal and recover spells, and next time they have shown interest in heading south into the Wyrdwood. Next week the adventures continue!

Variant Classes in C&C.

In the Castles & Crusades Castle Keepers Guide we have examples of variant races, but what do you think of variant classes with a different prime attribute from the Players Handbook?

Background for this question:
I liked the AD&D 1st ed. triple-class options for elves and half elves, such as the cleric/fighter/magic-user, and the fighter/magic-user/thief. That can’t happen in C&C due to the fact that you would need three prime attributes for half-elves (elf lineage) and elves, and they only get two. I have looked at the multi-classing, class and a half, and expanding classes options and I currently don’t feel they provide a satisfactory solution. There is also the possibility of mixing and matching the very niche classes from the Adventurers Backpack and the Codex books. Finally, I thought about bringing in primary, secondary, and tertiary attributes, but think that overcomplicates things. What can I do?

AD&D 1st edition Players Handbook (1978)

Race-Class Variant 1:
What if you have a race-specific class variant? For example, elves are quick on their feet, could there be an Elven Fighter class with Dexterity as prime instead of the PHB Fighter with strength as prime? That would make an elven fighter/rogue/wizard a reality. What about Elven Cleric or Elven Wizard classes that are charisma based? That could allow cleric/fighter/wizard.

Castles & Crusades Players Handbook, 7th printing (2017)

Race-Class Variant 2:
I also want to bring in the B/X and BECMI-inspired Race-as-Class to represent a sort of elder version of the elves and dwarves in my campaign world. I’ve already outlined versions of them but have yet to playtest them. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Elder Dwarf class is a strong fighter type with strength and constitution as primes for their race-class. The Elder Elf class will be a mixture of wizard, sword/bow fighter, and a little rogue stealthiness. Their primes would be dexterity and intelligence. Using this approach I could achieve a sort of elven fighter/thief/wizard, but this would require being an Elder Elf. However, this again would not allow for an elven cleric/fighter/wizard.

Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set Players Manual (1983)

Why am I so hung up on race-as-class and the AD&D elven triple class? They were a very important part of my D&D upbringing in the 1970’s and 80’s, and I want to bring that into my Castles & Crusades game. I just have to find the right way to bring that about.

Difficulty finding the right fantasy RPG art (especially females)

Trying to find good art to represent a character can be such a difficult time-sink. I have two major NPCs that I will be introducing to one of my campaigns (luckily, not for a year, so I have time). My challenge is finding art for a human male monk, and an elven female dragonslayer (she’s actually three classes, but dragonslayer dominates). Here’s what I face with my requirements.

Human Male Monk:
– My monks are not the eastern ki-energy martial artists. Mine are the medieval fighting monks from the crusades, much more like medieval friars, although some also take classes in cleric, paladin, or knight to fit into a Templar Knight mold. I wish we had more practical medieval friar style crusading monk art.

Female Elven Dragonslayer:
– No chainmail bikini/boobplate armor.
– No armor in high heels.
– No cutesy anime.
– No over-sized MMORPG-type weapons or armor that are impossible for any person to wear or wield.

This Elven Knight by Alexandra Valentine approaches what I am looking for, although there should still be more protective armor on her.

My C&C games are located in a High Middle Ages timeframe (c. mid-12th century), so only dwarves have the ability to make plate armor (they are a couple centuries ahead of humans in armor making), only elves make or use rapiers, firearms do not exist, and magic is difficult and can’t be cast constantly.

By contrast, so much current D&D 5E-inspired art looks really cool, but it is Renaissance-era in how it represents clothes, weapons, and armor. Firearms are available. And everyone can casts spells that never run out and they are very flashy. So the art looks good, but it doesn’t relate to the look and feel of my game at all.

Is it possible to get any female fantasy RPG representation that is not over-sexed, overly cute, or turned into some superhero/MMORPG exaggeration? I’m glad I don’t need this NPC art until next year, since I suspect I’ll need that much time to find it! But as I scour the web for other general art from week to week for my games, this is a daily challenge, since most of the art is the current D&D 5E-inspired art. The old school art from the 70’s-90’s is a bit more rational, although this was also the heyday of chainmail bikinis. As a result I frequently end up with the more limited options found in history magazine/book art, such as Osprey Publishing.

Castles & Crusades Diary: Dragonclaw Barony, Session 12

The adventurers, on their search for the Elven Thief Valanunthe, encounter the Black Hand Mercenaries hired by her and are captured by kobolds and bugbears!

Dragonclaw Barony Dramatis Personae:
Eliam – Half-Elf Cleric/Wizard of Lugh (Celtic)
Malcolm – Human Wizard of Arcanus (Crusader Kingdoms)
Sir Sandwyche – Human Paladin of Agathos (Crusader Kingdoms)
Gwar – Half-Orc Barbarian of Crom (Norse/Celtic)
Endur “The Thick” – Human Fighter of Gobniu (Celtic)
Juhraveal – Half-Elf Rogue of Bast (Egyptian)
Magnus – Gnome Druid of Belenus (Celtic)
Bitters Forthill – Dwarf Cleric/Fighter of Thor (Norse)
Tobias – Human Ranger of Sif (Norse)

Game Diary:
When we left off last time, the group had broken into the chamber of Valanunthe seeking out the two items she had stolen from Fonkin, the Gnome Sage. She went down a trapdoor hidden under her cot followed by Bitters Forthill. Once at the bottom she came upon him invisibly, stabbed him from behind, and bringing him down to 0 hp. His companions were right behind him, so she gave him a little wink and dashed off into the darkness of the secret 5 x 5 foot passage located beneath the rooms above.

For todays game three players couldn’t make it. So the players who were available said that the characters of those players – Bitters, Tobias, and Endur – would remain in Valanunthe’s room as Eliam, Malcolm, Sir Sandwyche, Gwar, Juhraveal, and Magnus, continued down the secret passage after Valanunthe.

After traveling for several hundred feet and a making couple of turns, they arrived at a ladder leading up to another room. Juhraveal snuck up to check for traps by tracing his fingers around the edges of the trap door. He failed his check and dust from around the edges fell onto his face and he began sneezing so horribly that he fell from the ladder onto the back of Gwar, who just shrugged him off. Realizing that anyone in the room above them knew they were there, Gwar and the others headed up the ladders for a fight. As Gwar pushed up the trapdoor a rat-like humanoid darted in with a bite and claw attacks. Keeping the rat-man occupies, the rest of the group made their way up. During the fight they discovered he was slowly regenerating the damage he was being dealt. The spellcasters, however, are well aware of the power of the sleep spell, and once cast, down went the rat-man. As this fight was happening two dwarves began entering the door in the south of the room. Gwar and Sir Sandwyche tried to keep it shut, but the dwarves were strong and pushed through. But again, sleep was cast and down went the dwarves. Pulling them into the room, they saw that all three had a patch of a black fist sewn onto their leather armor. They bound everyone up and then woke up the rat-man. They learned that his name was Captain Willard Rataess, leader of the Black Fist mercenaries. They interrogated him, but not getting what they wanted and discovering that he was an evil wererat, they killed him. Next they awoke the dwarven mercenaries of the Black Fist (after taking their weapons and coins). Their names were Cagbral Maryam and Urias Banhammer, and the paladin learned one was evil and the other was leaning that way. Seeing their leader was dead, they seemed open to negotiating a new working relationship. They told the group they were hired to come into these underground passages and properly engineer them using their great dwarven underground skills. They said that if the characters returned their gold, they would in return guide them through the remainder of the underground corridors. A sack of gold pieces was thrown toward them and one of them began telling them about the kobolds that were hired by Valanunthe to expand some of the passages with their mining skills. The players chose to tie up, gag, and blindfold the dwarves, and then headed out seeking Valanunthe.

Juhraveal was scouting ahead down the corridor and ran into a gnome-like creature asking for help from the evil people in the complex. The player knew something was up, for I had him roll a Charisma saving throw, and when he failed he learned that Juhraveal had been charmed. Juhraveal asked the little fella to join his group and he agreed. Heading back down the corridor they rejoined the rest of the group, at which point the gnome-like being standing next to Juhraveal threw forth his hand and a colorful array of colors fanned out before him, and after failing their saving throws, everyone except Magnus fell unconscious. The little being said that the people who fell asleep were not the real group members and that their true friends were tied up in another room. Juhraveal and Magnus asked him to take them to their “true” friends and he agreed, taking them to a room, where after he provided a secret knocking sound, the door was opened and they were greeted by four more gnome-like beings. At that point my GM skills momentarily lapsed and I accidentally made a reference to them as kobolds. My players were not surprised, however, for in my world kobolds are the corruption of the gnome race, and as such they are clever, masterful illusionists. But the players, of course were not going to meta-game and went along with what was happening.

Kobold (art from Monstrous Compendium 1, 1989 TSR, Inc.)

At that point I put a pause on that action and switched back to the group that had been rendered unconscious from the color spray. They woke up to find themselves unarmed and unarmored with their hands and feet manacled at the bottom of a 10 foot deep pit with bugbears looking down upon them laughing. They then distantly heard a female elven voice give the bugbears some orders and shut a door in the room above.

And that is where we left the game! Eliam, Malcolm, Gwar, and Sir Sandwyche are prisoners of bugbears that seem to be in the employ of Valanunthe. Juhraveal and Magnus, in a charmed-like state are talking to some kobolds disguised with magical and practical effects as gnomes, and we’ve got Bitters, Endur, and Tobias in Valanunthe’s room. Some players seem to think a TPK is immanent. Is it? Find out in two weeks!

Castles & Crusades Diary: Barrowmaze Campaign, Session 36.

The Army of the Light fight a floating horror and battle the evil, long-dead warrior, Vermingetrix the Reaver.

When we left off last time the group had acquired new information about the Barrowmaze from the spirit of the deceased paladin Sir Guy de O’Veargne, as well as from a sphinx.

Continuing through the corridors, the group used a magical compass they possessed to seek the direction of treasure, following where the needle pointed, they eventually found a secret door which led to a passageway that formed the shape of a square around what were apparently bricked-up rooms in the interior.

As they began breaking through the bricked up wall that would lead to the first interior area, Gnoosh, the gnome rogue/illusionist had picked up undecipherable alien thoughts (due to his helm of telepathy), as well as seeing this invisible creature abruptly rounded the corner from the east (due to his robe of eyes), but it was all a bit much for him to make sense of, and for the rest of the group this mysterious creature seemed to arrive from nowhere as it emerged from its invisible state and began attacking those breaking through the bricked up area.

A floating horror (art from Barrowmaze Complete)

It hovered eight feet tall, its central body possessed a brain-like appearance with a yellow beak and ten green tentacles that lightly brushed against the stone floor. It’s attacks included two tentacles that pulled up and constricted Gimli, the dwarven berserker, as well as bite him with its beak (injecting a poison) and another tentacle that picked up a cleric in the group. What followed was challenging indeed, as the adventurers had to deal with 10 tentacle attacks pulling victims toward its beak attack. Players managed over time to cut off tentacles freeing their friends only to have them picked up again seconds later. It was wearing them down and several were reduced to the minimum health they needed to remain in combat. Many tried to attack it with ‘fascination’ and ‘fear’ effects, but its magical resistance and successful saving throws rendered them ineffective. Still, the floating horror was also slowly being reduced in power as round by round tentacles were lopped off by blades and the brain-like body was hit by sling bullets and arrows. When the battle came to completion the party had won, but they had exhausted their spells and needed healing.

They also noticed that above the bricked up archway they had been breaking through a piece of plaster had fallen down revealing engraved words in Auld Common – Vermingetrix the Reaver. Dhekeon, the dead fallen paladin that accompanied them seeking redemption, recalled that Vermingetrix had once been a powerful evil warrior that had great repute centuries ago in the days just before the Ironguards entered this area of the Borderlands and established their Duchy. The players decided they needed to rest up for this fight. Surrounded by two bricked up walls in front of them (leading to the Reaver), and a closed secret door with a pit trap behind them, they felt safe enough to rest in this part of the dungeon. The night of rest for the characters was filled with nightmares and images of evil from centuries past. They got their night of rest, but they were shaken from the experience.

After breaking through the final bricked wall, Cobalt, the paladin, felt a wave of evil envelop him. From the shadows of the crypt the eyes of a zombie-like figure in a full, black, chainmail suit wielding a two-handed sword lit up in piercing red. It laughed at them, noticed Dhekeon in the back (a contemporary enemy from his time), and lunged forward. The players, though, were prepared for this encounter. Llewelyn, the elven cleric/wizard had a mirror of opposition and held it up to Vermingetrix, and as he lunged forward laughing, so did his mirror opposite! Other spellcasters launched magical missiles, which hit their mark (and caused Vermingetrix to burst into flame, causing anyone who entered melee combat to take fire damage). One character managed a critical hit with his magical bardiche (which had reach, avoiding the fire damage) that literally cut off the right arm of Vermingetrix. Gimli then lunged forward and succeeded in a critical hit of his own (his berserker abilities also made him immune to fire!). The barrage of brutal attacks from the dwarven berserker under the influence Odin’s Fury took Vermingetrix down. All this happened half way through the very first round! It was a bit anti-climatic, to be honest, considering how much Vermengetrix had been talked up and the effort it had taken for them to get to his crypt!

But this was in part my fault. We all forget things and make mistakes in the heat of an epic combat. I’ve been DMing for over 30 years and it still happens to me. In the case of Vermingetrix, I had forgotten an important element that would have kept him standing and fighting longer, however, I didn’t realize this until after the round was complete and declared the battle over, and I won’t go back and change things if I make a mistake. The same is true for players. In the battle with the floating horror, one player forgot to add his dwarven saving throw bonus versus poison from its beak attack, failed the save, and had to use one of the cards from the Deck of Dirty Tricks to succeed on the save and avoid the poison damage. When he realized his error the following round, he asked to get the card back, since his dwarven bonus would have meant he had succeeded on his save and wouldn’t have needed the card. But I said that the round was over, he used the card, and we’ve moved on.

The players collected some fine loot from these encounters: a magical suit of chain mail, a magical two-handed sword, a scarab of protection, and some terra cotta figurines of inescapable location, plus thousands of gold pieces. Cobalt and Gnoosh took the figurines, since they are the senior members of the Army of the Light, and it was decided that if the necromancers in the Barrowmaze were using divination to discover the location of their enemies, it would be those two. Several characters leveled up, so as they train to get some new abilities, new characters will be swapped in to take their place. Can’t wait for next Tuesday!

The challenge of running homebrewed published campaign settings.

I currently run two Castles & Crusades campaigns. Both these mini campaigns are flexible enough that I can place them anywhere in my campaign world and few ask questions. However, future campaigns will grow in scope. I want to run Aufstrag, for example, but I am putting it in my own world, not Aihrde. The issue is that those that know the “official” lore of these large campaign settings may very well say “that’s not how it’s listed in the Codex of Aihrde” (or some other published source).

Prior to switching to Castles & Crusades and creating my own world, I previously ran a Forgotten Realms campaign for nearly 30 years through multiple editions of Dungeons and Dragons. Eventually I just threw up my hands and flushed that campaign down the toilet due to drastic world changes I hated and rejected (e.g. 4E’s spell plague and timeline jump), and when new players would say “that’s not what it says on [so-and-so] website!”

Switching to C&C means player’s don’t say “that’s not a D&D rule” because I am not using official D&D, and thus far I have been using mini-campaign settings that fit well with my own home brew world that is slowly growing over time (I have pantheons of gods that take up a spreadsheet with 7 tabs of options and powers). This change has been truly liberating! (I wish I would’ve left D&D and the Forgotten Realms behind years earlier).

But as I look ahead to using Aufstrag, and later on The Lost Lands (Frog God Games), the Wilderlands (Judges Guild), Harn, etc. I do not want to re-experience what I did during the Forgotten Realms years with player’s demanding “official” rules and lore. I want to be able to use some of these other amazing campaign settings, but I also want to be able to make changes to personalize them. But what are the chances of that working?