Castles & Crusades: Barrowmaze, Session 48.

The Army of the Light battle a Skeletal Naga that would’ve wiped half the group if not for the lucky intervention of the gods!

Skeletal Naga

Game Diary:
After the last adventure the Army of the Light relaxed in the town of Helix as Balthazar the wizard and Cyron the cleric spent 3 weeks and 1 week, respectively recovering from the rot pudding that nearly killed them. With a swapping of a couple characters, the Army of the Light – 11 characters for this evening of adventure – headed back to the Barrowmaze to work on completing their exploration of the northwest corner of the labyrinthine underground complex.

With Arthur, the oathsworn constantly detecting evil, Kyra, the elven cleric detecting undead, and Gnoosh, the gnome rogue illusionist using his robe of eyes, helm of telepathy, and compass of treasure finding to cover many of the other bases, this particular group makeup made it very difficult for any danger to sneak up on them! In this case the compass of treasure finding pointed in a direction indicating where large sums of treasure could be found, and unsurprisingly the detection of evil and undead was also strong in that same direction! Nothing will stop the Army of the Light, and they moved forward. Moving down the corridor where their senses told them there would be evil, undead, and treasure, they came upon a large curtain which blocked the 10 foot wide passage in front of them. It was embroidered in silver thread and displayed a skeletal serpentine creature with a human skull for a head. The legend lore of Belden, the gnome bard, told him that this was probably a depiction of a skeletal naga, an intelligent and powerful guardian creature. Directly behind the curtain was a heavy iron portcullis, which was no problem when you’ve got half-orc barbarians and berserkers in your group!

After passing through the portcullis they made their way through the crypt of a long dead painter and from their they arrived at a secret door. In front of it was a pit trap, which Gnoosh disarmed. As the secret door was sliding over two zombie-like arms reached out. One grabbed Gnoosh and pulled him into the darkness within. There the undead wrapped its other hand around his throat and began squeezing. Once the door was open group members swung their weapons and Kyra used her special magic item – the Gauntlet of Palantis – and shot out a beam of holy light that seared the flesh of the undead. They went down quickly after that.

The group knew they were close to the treasure and the greater evil and undead and there was now only one door left to open before they arrived at it. Open it they did, and as they did so they saw the skeletal naga swaying back and forth as the air began humming with electrical energy, their hair stood up on end an immense lightning bolt was about to launch itself towards them all. The players did have a card they could use from the Deck of Dirty Tricks (I randomly draw cards from this deck each game session and allow players to use them as a way of representing “the Gods working in mysterious ways”), the card read: “opponent loses one action.” I was rolling damage and told them all to roll Dexterity saving throws. They did so but some players also said they wanted to use the card to prevent the spell from going off. They were very lucky indeed! Just as the lightning bolt was about envelop them all, it sparked out of existence. The players were curious as to what would’ve happened if they had not had the card, or had not used it. I told them that I had rolled 35 damage for those that failed their save (18 damage for those that passed). Six characters out of the eleven would’ve been outright killed, or brought down to negative hit points lingering at death’s door! The use of that card saved half the group! With a new round of initiative and a new found appreciation of life, the group began moving into the room and attacked it. Although it was able to brush off some of their spells, good blows were being laid upon it from the group’s magical weapons. It did manage to cover half the group in a web so as to reduce the number of attacks it was receiving and allow it to focus its attacks on a more manageable number of adventurers. But in the end this was futile – it’s fate was sealed. The next round the group destroyed the guardian creature and the treasure it was guarding was now theirs – thousands of gold pieces worth of gems and jewelry!

Character Creation Challenge: Labyrinth Lord

After previously making a Blueholme character for the Character Creation Challenge, today I used Labyrinth Lord (LL). I do have familiarity with LL, since my Tuesday Castles & Crusades game is based in the Barrowmaze and that was made for LL, thus on a weekly basis, I make use of LL encounters, monsters, traps, and ideas. Still, I’ve never sat down and made a LL character before. Whereas Blueholme is based on the 1977 Basic D&D set, LL relies upon its successor – the 1981 Basic D&D set.

Labyrinth Lord and Advanced Labyrinth Lord

Character creation begins as follows:
“Character Abilities must be determined by rolling randomly. Roll 3d6 for each of the abilities. The Labyrinth Lord may allow you to roll abilities in any order, or in order as listed here.” I rolled and got less than stellar attributes (5, 8, 7, 10, 11, 15), but since I am the Labyrinth Lord for the purposes of this character creation, I distributed them the way I liked. I chose to be a Halfling and put my best three scores in Dexterity, Constitution, and Strength, and the three low attributes in Wisdom, Charisma, and Intelligence. The result is that Elmin will get bonuses to his armor class, missile attacks and initiative, but when it comes to Intelligence, he is unable to read or write!

My character made using the basic Labyrinth Lord rule set

Since LL is based on 1981 Basic, your race is your class, which is a simplicity I really like (the game I run – Castles & Crusades (C&C) – models character classes more on AD&D, but race-as-class has been brought into C&C – in the World of Aihrde, for example – and I am in the process of doing that as well for my C&C homebrew campaigns).

I like the Halfling racial abilities: 90% hiding in outdoor settings, hiding in shadows underground on a 1-2 on 1d6, initiative modifier of +1 when alone or traveling with other halflings (I would really love to have a halfling-only party! I don’t see that happen much anymore in gaming, most people go for a very diverse group of characters, but to have all halfings, dwarves, or elves, could be a lot of fun), +1 on missile attacks, AC is -2 versus larger than human size creatures, and halflings get a d6 hit die.

I gave Elmin a Neutral alignment. LL uses the three alignment system of chaotic, lawful, and neutral. As I mentioned in my Blueholme character creation, I like the stripped down system (C&C uses the full nine alignment AD&D system, but putting greater emphasis on the cosmic alignments of law and chaos in my Barrowmaze game adds some unique flavor to that campaign). Finally, I rolled his starting money and got 140 gold pieces, after buying weapons (short sword and sling), armor (leather), and essential items such as backpack, bedroll, torches, rations, waterskin, etc., he ended up with 99 gp. Also, even though half his attributes are below average, he still gets a +5% XP bonus since his prime requisite of Dexterity is higher than 13. It was a lot of fun making Elmin, and it went very quickly. I do like being able to make characters quickly.

So that is it for this character creation. So far I’ve done Blueholme and LL, coming up through the remainder of this month is BECMI, Basic Fantasy, Old School Essentials, Adventures Dark and Deep, Swords & Wizardry, and Low Fantasy Gaming.

Castles & Crusades: Barrowmaze Campaign, Session 47.

Epic night! Using sinkholes and fireballs, the Army of the Light causes the complete collapse of the Grand Temple of the undead god Nergal. A rot pudding brings two characters to death’s door. Acolytes of Orcus and their undead bodyguards are vaporized by a fireball!

Fireballs were the cause of much devastation tonight!

Game Diary:
This was a night that I won’t forget soon! After the last adventure taking place in early January, the Army of the Light took three more months off to recover sanity from their previous undead encounters, as well as wait for the snow to melt as spring made its way to the Duchy of Aerik. They made their way to the Barrowmaze under rainy spring conditions and entered the Barromaze to visit an unexplored area. As they were passing by the Grand Temple of Nergal (where they had previously destroyed and closed the Pit of Chaos which had been spewing forth monsters from other realms), they noticed that their was a bar across the double doors where renovation work was being done. The Pit of Chaos may have been destroyed, but the Cult of Nergal was clearly trying to maintain their presence. The druid was having none of it. He cast two well placed open sinkhole spells, one in the midpoint between the west pillars, and one at the midpoint between the east pillars. The west sinkhole fell down 20 feet, and the east 10 feet. The three pillars in each area fell toward each other and then fell inward to where the Pit of Chaos previously was (it had since been covered over with paving stones with artistic representations in remembrance of the once great pit). Without these six nearly five foot diameter pillars holding up the 30 foot ceiling, the ceiling steadily began crumbling from above. This was still not enough, so with everyone safely outside, a fireball was launched at the center of the ceiling directly above where the center of the Pit of Chaos previously sat. That was just what they needed to finish the job, there was an immense roar as massive chunks of the entire ceiling of the chamber collapsed into the room. The group was just barely able to close the doors in time to avoid boulders tumbling out into the grand hall.

The Grand Temple of Nergal. Formerly the location of the Pit of Chaos.

With that accomplished, they headed to the west in a new section of the dungeon and entered a chamber where purple moss was found on the ceiling emanating a sweet smell which began to lull characters to sleep. The monk jumped on the druid’s shoulders and with a torch and burned it all up, leaving just burnt, brown, dried-up plant fragments drift down from the ceiling like confetti. As that was finished they heard the sound of something beneath the floor of the northwest corner. This alerted the rogue to a pit trap at that location and clearly something was trying to climb up from inside the covered area. Activating it caused the trap door to fall down as well as the occupant. Looking down they saw that it was the undead form of a former adventurer – Bjorn, of the Norse Whispers adventuring party. They had met him over a year before when the Norse Whispers turned on the Army of the Light in the dungeon. The Norse Whispers were defeated in that battle, with only Bjorn surviving. He was brought back to the town of Helix and nothing was heard from him after that. Cobalt, the paladin, now used his winged helmet to fly into the pit and destroy the undead adventurer, discovering that at some point Bjorn must have fallen in and died with some loot, for his backpack was filled with nearly 300 gp.

As they were finishing this up, an undead rushed in from a nearby corridor with white, tightened skin and sharp fingernail-like claws. Gorgat, the barbarian was alert enough to not be surprised by this and successfully intimidated it. This caused it to miss with its attack intended for the monk and the group proceeded to pummel it with magical weapons and spells. As the piercing black points of light that shown out of its eyes began to fade, the clerics could see black, negative energy poor forth from its body, and they realized that if this creature would’ve succeeded in its attacks, that the negative energy would’ve drained from them their life memories and experiences; this was their first major encounter with a level-draining Wight, and they had succeeded in defeating it without getting touched – they were very lucky!

Examining the chamber they came to a locked door. Opening it up a giant pudding made up of rot – rotting flesh, bone and flesh pieces, and once living detritus – was awaiting them. Balthazar, the wizard, tried to shocking grasp it, but it was immune to the electrical attack and by touching it he contracted a deadly disease! Magical bludgeoning weapons pummeled it and magical missiles pierced it. The onslaught caused it to collapse and the group chose to burn it to ensure its death. That was successful. However, the gas emitted by rotting corpses it had devoured had ben building up inside the pudding, and when the heat of the thrown torches and burning hands touched it, the gas sprayed out of its dying body and the cleric Kyron and the Elven cleric/wizard Llewellyn inhaled the nasty results. As clerics they could both tell that this was a disease that could kill them. Cobalt tried to cure disease as well as Llewellyn. The Elf succeeded in his check (it had a high challenge level), but Balthazar and Kyron failed their saves. They broke out in profuse sweating, their movement was halved, and they could only attack every other round.

They knew they needed to leave and get back to Ironguard Motte soon. But they discovered a hidden doorway in this room. Deciding to open this one last door before leaving, they found a funerary box and two amphora with snake depicted on it. Immediately upon opening the box they could hear snake sounds as cobras made of shiny metal emerged from the top of the amphorae. The bard immediately went to work with fascinate, and while he had the metallic cobras charmed, Gorgat, the barbarian, pulled out the funerary box and the other members closed the secret door sealing the snakes back inside the secret chamber. When opening the funerary box Balthazar, the wizard, noticed some magical shimmering on the open doorway from which they had entered the rot pudding room. It was some invisible barrier. He tried without success to dispel magic. So Llewellyn used shatter on the wall next to the door to weaken it and with sledgehammers in hand, they began pounding down the wall next to the door. Balthazar worked out that a wall of force had been erected, but fortunately, slowly bashing down the stone wall next to it was allowing them to bypass it.

However, all these sinkholes, fireballs, and shatter spells that had been going off created a massive amount of noise and an easy path to trace for those nearby, and through a 2 foot by 2 foot hole that had been made in the wall beside the door with the wall of force, the group saw clerical Acolytes of Orcus in black chain armor with skeleton bodyguards approaching. Everyone could see through the open door with the wall of force, and when the acolytes asked “are you the ones who destroyed the Grand Temple of Nergal?” (the Church of Nergal happens to be the main competitors to the Cult of Orcus in the Barrowmaze), they heard a “yes” from Balthazar, immediately followed by Llewellyn launching an acid arrow through the 2 foot opening, and seconds later another fireball was launched! The acidic arrow brought one acolyte to his knees, but the fireball blew right through his abdomen, sending pieces of his body in every direction. An acolyte just next to him was blasted into the wall, two other acolytes tumbled to the side, and a half dozen skeletons were blown into smithereens! The next round a magic missile took out one of the remaining prone acolytes, and the last acolyte grabbed his remaining skeletal escorts and yelled “Get Out!” and he fled with his undead minions. The group finished breaking through the wall and found the corridors on their way out of the Barrowmaze empty.

With Balthazar and Kyron at half movement due to the rot pudding disease, they only made it to the town of Helix before nightfall. The clerics could tell that the two had perhaps 24 hours to live unless the disease could be removed. But they had battled a powerful monster indeed, and a cure disease was not by itself enough to remove the affliction, it required the spellcaster to make a spellcaster check to truly bring the force and power of it’s deity and their divine magic to succeed in eliminating it (otherwise it just delayed the suffering and death). Unfortunately, the challenge class was high, and the cleric was failing his checks. Local adventures of St. Luther – a paladin named Sir Brock Dragonbane, and a cleric of St. Luther named Brother Binford came to assist, but most of their spellchecks failed and it was only with death a few hours away as their bodies were racked with this deadly disease causing their bodily organs to fail, that Kyron and Balthazar barely survived. Kyron would now need a week of complete bedrest, and Balthazar would need three weeks of undisturbed bedrest. They survived, but it was hit-or-miss!

Character Creation Challenge: Blueholme

There is a Character Creation Challenge going on where you’re encouraged to make a character a day for the month of January. That’s a lot of characters and I doubt anyone wants to see me make 31 characters. Still, I do want to make make use of a reduced version of this challenge as an opportunity to make characters using game systems I own, but don’t know when I will get to play them. So I have printed out character sheets for Blueholme, Labyrinth Lord, BECMI, Basic Fantasy, Old School Essentials, Adventures Dark and Deep, Swords & Wizardry, and Low Fantasy Gaming. Those are the eight-game systems for which I plan to examine the character creation process (a more relaxed 2 characters a week instead of one a day!). It will be a great way to compare and contrast races and classes in these various systems. First up, Blueholme.

This is a retroclone of the Basic D&D set of 1977 (the first of the Basic sets). This is a much simpler form of D&D and one for which I would love to participate as a player just because I could sit down and play and not have to puzzle over lots of rules (e.g. races only have 2-3 traits, and all weapons do 1d6 damage).

Character creation is simple in Blueholme: 10 steps detailed in one column of one page.

Following the Generating A Character, step 2, I took out my Game Science dice (you’ve got to use dice that Louis Zocchi has been making dice since 1974 for this retroclone, right?), rolled 3d6 and wrote the numbers down as I rolled them down the line from top to bottom. This meant that the results of my rolls would determine what the species and class of my character would be. You can also see from my character sheet below what the attribute adjustments are – not much to write down – just some extra followers and two extra languages! Like I said, a very simple system!

My Elven Fighter Mage, Elyon.

With good rolls in strength, intelligence, and charisma, and with my lowest score in wisdom, I looked at my species/class options. Blueholme has four classes: Fighter, Cleric, Magic-User, and Thief. There are also four species: Human, Dwarf, Elf, Halfing. I chose to utilize my high scores in strength and intelligence to make an Elf Fighting Mage (mixing elements of the Fighter and Magic-User classes). This is one of the more complicated combinations you could probably make for Blueholme, and yet it was effortless. If you look at my character sheet, it took but a minute to write down my three Elven racial traits, the fighter class gave me nothing special (except saving throw numbers and the ability to use weapons), and for magic-user I just had to write down that I have one spell.

I then picked my alignment. Alignment is simplified in Blueholme: lawful good, lawful evil, neutral, chaotic good, and chaotic evil. I chose chaotic good. I do like this simplified alignment system, it isn’t as bare-bones as the lawful, chaotic, and neutral options you find in other early D&D games, and yet not as (sometimes) cumbersome as the nine alignment system. I sometimes wonder whether I should simplify my Castles & Crusades game from nine to five (I think I would want to playtest this in a Blueholme environment to see how it works out in game play). Of course, being a philosopher I do have a bit of an obsession sometimes with morality and alignment and I love to see these challenges play out in game play, but perhaps the challenges could be more fun with five instead of nine alignments?

I then rolled my wealth (3d6x10), got 140 gold pieces and then went to the one page equipment section to buy basic things an elven fighting mage might need. When I was finished I had 77gp remaining. To be honest, I think picking equipment took the longest for this character and all I got for him was a sword, bow, backpack, rations, torches, rope, wine skin, and a tinder box. Lastly, I came up with a name – Elyon – worked out my experience (you add the fighter and magic-user requirements together, so Elyon would advance slowly, however, with a high attribute in strength, he would get a +5% XP bonus), and then I wrote down my saving throws (you choose the best from fighter and magic-user).

The whole process was quick and easy. There is something elegant in such a simple system. I used the the Blueholme Prentice Rules, which covers levels 1-3 (just as the original Holmes D&D Basic Set did). However, there is a Journeymanne Rules set that takes the Holmes rule set from 1977 and allows character to go from levels 1-20. So Blueholme is a game system that you could use to run an entire campaign. I hope someone will run Blueholme at a convention like GaryCon or GameHole, because I want to give this a try!

Well, I had fun with this and I hope you did as well!

BlueHolme Prentice Rules (lvls 1-3) and Journeymanne Rules (lvls 1-20)

Edinburgh’s Hogmanay 2020

Scotland’s Hogmanay is one of the best New Year’s celebrations you can experience. I sadly no longer live there, and celebration had to be re-thought due to the pandemic and reducing large gatherings, so what they did was have narrators and musicians beautifully bring to life the poetry of Jackie Kay with stunning drone displays in the Scottish night skies (such as a stag galloping across the sky from the Highlands to Edinburgh).

I hope you all enjoy it, and once again – Happy New Year!