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?