Returning to the Gaming Table!

In early March 2020 gaming at my home, game stores, and the conventions I attend came to a halt. For nearly 15 months I’ve conducted my gaming online. But beginning 1 June, 2021, all the gamers in my home game will be making their triumphant return to my table! Will anything be changing after gaming online for the last 15 months?

Well, first of all, with 15 months of working at home (and a brief period of unemployment), I’ve had time to work on my house. The medieval décor has been enhanced during this time. When my players enter my house they should feel more immersed than before. Also, I gained three players for my home game during the pandemic, so those three players have never been to my house, so this will be their first visit.

When I first switched from Dungeons & Dragons to Castles & Crusades I purchased extra books so that players could reference them at the table and buy them from me if they enjoyed the game and my campaign (some might initially be reluctant to try a game other than D&D or Pathfinder. I’ve now been running C&C for 3 years now and have a steady and loyal group of players dedicated to my game and the C&C system. With the books you see on the table (Codex Germania, Nordica, Slavorum, Classicum, Celtarum, Mystical Companions, and several Players Handbooks) in the above picture, I now have players who’ll be purchasing most of those books off of me, ensuring that they have all the options for available game play for C&C and my campaigns.

You can also see some of the map fragments from Barrowmaze. During the pandemic I made use of Discord screen sharing and later the Owlbear Rodeo VTT to share the Barrowmaze map sections they had discovered. Now, we can return to using old fashioned paper handouts with the players folding and taping them together as they receive them.

As it happens, two of the players over the next few months will find themselves unable to game in person at various points in time, and here all the experience of online gaming will remain relevant. For those unable to attend in person for a session, can still appear via Discord and I will have a map fragment posted on Owlbear Rodeo and the webcam aimed at our gaming with everyone in sight (and we will be able to see them with their webcam).

As for GMing, face-to-face gaming won’t change much for me, since I mostly ran my online gaming using the actual physical books before me (I really don’t like reading digital/PDF material while gaming and only used them for screen sharing or uploading to Owlbear Rodeo). I run games mostly standing up and moving about and that means picking up and reading through physical books when needed, and this is remains true for me whether gaming in person or online.

However, there will be a few minor changes. So, instead of me rolling the critical hit/fumble dice for a player, they can now roll the dice themselves (you can see the dice tower where I will makes some of my occasional public rolls as well as the critical hit/fumble dice in a skeletal hand in the picture of my gaming table two pictures above).

I also like to have ambient music playing in the background of my games, and that didn’t happen during my online games. Now, with people back in my gaming room, I can have music and sounds playing in the background. When you add the subdued lighting, candles, flickering LEDs, etc., the game should be greatly enhanced! It will be nice to finally have everyone back for proper socializing!

Castles & Crusades Diary: Barrowmaze, Session 66

1. The Army of the Light have an epic battle with the necromancer priest Grimstaff, steel skeletons, ghouls, necromancer wizards.
2. Orwin, the fighter/dragonslayer, dies in the struggle!
3. Dhekeon, the fallen skeletal paladin whose body parts were scattered throughout the dungeon, is reformed.

Llewelyn, Elf Cleric/Wizard of Sehanine
Rolando, Hobbit Rogue/Pacer of Brandobaris
Astrid, Human Skald of Hel
Ria, Human Pacer of Loki
Remi, Gnome Harlequin (Rogue/Illusionist) of Hermes
Tiberius, Human Paladin of St. Ingrid
Roulf, Half-Orc Drachentoten (i.e. Dragonslayer) of Crom
Edward, Human Bard of St. Cecilia
Aturash, Half-Orc Berserker of Odin
Orwin, Half-Elf (human lineage) Fighter/Drachentoten of St. Agathos [deceased]

Inaros, Human Cleric of Osiris
Dhekeon “the Disgraced,” fallen skeletal paladin of St. Justus seeking redemption [reformed]

Game Diary:
We left off on a cliffhanger. The Army of the Light had made it to the entrance of a large chamber, opened the doors and saw Dhekeon’s skeletal torso tied to the top of the central obelisk. Hidden behind the obelisk, four pillars, and numerous piles of bones, they could hear the rustling of potential hidden enemies lying in wait, and from east, west, and south doors they could hear spellcasting being performed – it was time for initiative!

The chamber where Grimstaff and his minions battled the Army of the Light (art from Barrowmaze Complete)

Llewelyn was up first and he wasn’t messing around – he cast fireball at the east doorway. The explosion of flame left a ghoul hiding in the pile of bones in front of it charred to death, and Llewelyn saw three necromancer wizards dead at the doorway (with their mage robes on fire) where they had been preparing to cast spells on the adventurers. The players didn’t realize it, but they had nearly destroyed 1/3 of the villains with one spell!

Map fragment from Barrowmaze Complete.

Necromancer wizards from the west doorway peaked out far enough to blast three PC’s at the north doorway with their magic missiles (when line of site is difficult due to pillars and piles of bones, better to use magic spells that never miss!).

Players moved into the room, with some hugging the eastern walls since the necromancers had been dealt with there. The necromancers from the west door were preparing more dastardly magic to whittle down the heroes, but Remi hurled a color spray through the doorway and three wizards fell unconscious, one went blind, leaving only one standing. Roulf and a friend made their way through the door and ensured their dark magic would effect them no more. There had been a ghoul hiding in the bone pile directly in front of the west door, but it also didn’t stand a chance against the 10 characters that were now in the chamber.

Although the east and west doorways of necromancers and ghouls had been destroyed quite quickly, there was a greater threat located in the south doorway – the cleric Grimstaff and his entourage of steel skeletons! While the group was destroying the necromancers to the east and west, he summoned claws from the grave, which caused skeletal hands to emerge from the ground in nearly all the southern squares in front of the south door where he lurked. Some tried to pass through it, but when they failed their Dexterity saves, the claws viciously attacked them and slowed their movement. The group backed off and spent their time ensuring the other necromancers and ghouls were gone. This gave Grimstaff more time to attempt his dark clerical magic. He managed to send forth his gaze to Astrid, and when she failed her save his dark gnosis projected into her mind the grand and terrifying power of Nergal. She was left unable to function and in a daze. The heroes set up a defense of their own, filling the entire northern portion of the chamber with an obscuring mist ensuring they had a place they could retreat to avoid being targeted if needed.

Eventually some members of the group thought they had a solution to get past the claws from the grave. Ria had slippers of spider climbing and Roulf had boots of striding and springing, and they made use of them. Ria climbed the south west wall and headed towards the south door. Grimstaff cracked open the door to share his dark gnosis with her, but she resisted. Roulf then lept into the air to the doorway, swung it open, surprising Grimstaff, and saw two skeletons of steel and a charmed mongrelman with three arms holding a sack and a couple of lit torches. With the south door now open several magic missiles flew through the doorway from Eliam and hit Grimstaff. Roulf laid a mighty blow on him as well. Grimstaff backed away behind his two steel skeletons and healed himself.

While the south entrance was now clogged with people and claws from the grave still inhibiting movement for several characters, they made their way to the east doorway (room 47 on the map). There they noticed that one necromancer did seem to have escaped into a small crypt with a collapsed wall in the back leading to natural tunnels created by underground monsters (crypt 3 on the map).

Back with Grimstaff and his undead, Llewelyn fired an acid arrow that hit a steel skeleton, but it was only partially effective as this undead seemed to have the power to resist magic (a magic missile Llewelyn cast hit it with no effect). Melee combat was going to be the requirement with these monsters! Ria had now made her way into the south hallway via the walls and ceiling with her spider climbing, and she used her bardiche from the ceiling 10 foot above (polearms can be very useful for such things!). Roulf got a mighty blow on Grimstaff, reducing him to 0 hit points allowing him to only move at half speed and unable to fight or cast spells. Ria then sent her bardiche right through his skull from above. The charmed mongrelman fell to his knees and cried over his master, but only momentarily, for the charm effect used on him began to fade. The steel skeletons hung on longer, and with two mighty steel fist attacks each round, Roulf was getting heavily beat down. Eventually Aturash and Orwin made their way in as the claws from the grave had faded after Grimstaff’s death (as well as the dark gnosis on Astrid). The steel skeletons began pummeling them as well.

Roulf prepared another brutal blow – but he rolled a 1! The critical fumble die was rolled – hit an ally. There were two options, Orwin behind him and Ria on the ceiling. Orwin was closest, unknown to most of us, he was down to 1 hit point at that point, and when he was struck, he was struck dead. As it happened, there was a Deck of Dirty Tricks card that would’ve allowed an adjacent person to get hit, and I was willing to have it hit Ria instead, but the players elected to have Orwin take the blow. A sacrifice had been made. Orwin may have died, but Roulf, Aturash, and Ria were able to finish off the steel skeletons.

During the battle in the south doorway, Inaros had taken Dhekeon’s body from a sack at the base of the central obelisk. The legs and pelvis assembled themselves and Dhekeon positioned himself at the bottom of the obelisk, his left and right arms then climbed up the obelisk and untied the torso causing it to slide down the obelisk and attach to the pelvis and legs. Finally, the two arms slid down and attached to the shoulder joints. Dhekeon was now complete except for his head – but where was it? He touched Remi – who was next to him – on the shoulder and pointed toward the east doorway indicating his head was in that direction (Dhekeon couldn’t see or talk, obviously, but he could still sense where his head was located and could indicate this by pointing).

As half the group looted Grimstaff and his crew, the other half used Dhekeon as a guide into narrow 4 foot wide tunnels fighting a piercer and a large orb spider (which had killed the necromancer that had passed through). It was in the sack of the this dead necromancer that they found Dhekeon’s skull – he was now complete!

The group acquired several thousand gold pieces of treasure from Grimstaff, and there had even been a magic circlet on Grimstaff’s head, but Ria’s bardiche blow through his skull had destroyed it. Still, there was a good haul of treasure overall. In this adventure one companion fell, and another arose reassembled. The group had a total of 7 undead encounters during this adventure and would require 7 weeks to get the wisdom drain that Barrowmaze undead encounters cause. The next adventure looks to be 7 weeks in the groups future as they relax and recover their sanity. What will they do next?

Castles & Crusades Diary: Barrowmaze, Session 65

The Army of the Light battle zombie babies, zombie mothers and their male slaves!

Llewelyn, Elf Cleric/Wizard of Sehanine
Rolando, Hobbit Rogue/Pacer of Brandobaris
Astrid, Human Skald of Hel
Ria, Human Pacer of Loki
Remi, Gnome Harlequin (Rogue/Illusionist) of Hermes
Tiberius, Human Paladin of St. Ingrid
Roulf, Half-Orc Drachentoten (i.e. Dragonslayer) of Crom
Edward, Human Bard of St. Cecilia
Aturash, Half-Orc Berserker of Odin
Orwin, Half-Elf (human lineage) Fighter/Drachentoten of St. Agathos
Kyra, Elven Cleric of Sehanine

Inaros, Human Cleric of Osiris

Game Diary:
After only a day of rest from their previous excursion into the Barrowmaze, they headed back again, they had nearly all of Dhekeon’s body parts (Dhekeon is the fallen skeletal paladin who has joined them to seek redemption), all that was missing was his head and torso. Inaros, the highest ranking lawful good member of this particular group that was going on the adventure (The Army of the Light now numbers over 30!), had one of Dhekeon’s arms lodged within the arm loop of his shield, and so the army could point in the direction of where his remaining parts could be found.

Upon entering the Barrowmoor, the Army of the Light saw three adventuring groups at work, two were excavating barrow mounds, but one was entering the Barrowmaze itself through the one known and common entrance. The group though they should use this entrance point for quickest access to where Dhekeon’s parts lie. It was mid-June in the Duchy of Aerik and adventuring parties and tomb-raiders were quite busy seeking glory and treasure!

Upon entering this old entrance they headed south to explore areas they had last been in between 1 and 2 years ago. Things had changed. Adventuring parties had left some graffiti on the walls, traps had been sprung with dead tomb-raiders within, and the undead in the area were not the older undead from the original people buried here, now the undead were the recently deceased tomb-raiders that had met their end here.

Zombie baby art by Chris Woodall.

In one part of these halls the group was reminded they had encountered some zombie babies that ended up falling to their death in a pit trap, although they had never discovered at the time where these undead infants had come from. Now, over a year later their heads had been carefully placed on a platform in remembrance right next to the pit. What did this mean? They found out immediately as two angry, screaming zombie mothers emerged from opposite ends of the hall, trapping the group in between!

One character took a mother and noticed that she was pregnant with an undead child in her (its hand prints pressed at her stomach from the inside). She had a purplish skin hue, looked ready to breathe some noxious spray onto the hero, but attacks from melee and range took her down. A key check made the group aware that if one of these undead were to successfully breath their spray of undeath on a member of the group, that it could kill them with its toxicity. They were very careful in keeping their distance from the other undead mother and managed to kill them without losing anyone. After exploring the room they had set up as lairs and birthing chambers, the group then discovered a room of twenty fresh zombie men (i.e. recently deceased adventurers), that the undead women had been using to produce their zombie babies. Clerics managed to turn half of them while cutting down the rest with there weapons.

At this point they managed to find a clear path to where Dhekeon’s final parts could be found. They were now entering an area where a necromancer named Kelmok had tried to ambush them over a year ago. Now, it seemed, a new necromancer had take up residence here – Grimstaff. He was a necromancer from more civilized lands that had heard of the Barrowmaze within the Borderlands and had come here to claim greater power. Somehow he had gotten a hold of Dhekeon’s remaining parts and was now lying in wait for the Army of the Light to come to him. If this was his attempt to gain favor with the necromancers in the Barrowmaze, then if he could defeat part of the Army of the Light with this ambush, then he should undoubtedly be able to elevate himself through the ranks quite quickly!

After reading his taunting message, they entered the long north to south corridor and systematically battled ghoulish undead waiting for them. The whole time they fought the ghouls they could hear the voice of Grimstaff taunting them from further down the hall. Successfully destroying the ghouls the group made it to the double doors of the chamber where Grimstaff awaited. On the top of a obelisk in the center of this massive chamber they could see Dhekeon’s torso tied (his head seemed to have been removed). From behind four other pillars in the room and from under various piles of refuse and bone, the group could hear the sounds of arcane and divine necromancers preparing to cast spells at them. We were about to roll initiative to begin combat, but the session was over and this combat would have to wait until next week!

art from Barrowmaze Complete.

Castles & Crusades Diary: Dragonclaw Barony, session 25

The adventurers arrive in the abandoned village of Somber Grove (once run by a family of magic-users), find long-forgotten scrolls, and battle a harpy-like creature with giant frog minions. The threat was high since 4 of the 5 characters were charmed by the harpy!

Ser Sanwyche Gryffyn, Human Paladin of St. Agathos
Gwar, Half-Orc Barbarian of Crom
Jabari Rajul-min Alshrq, Human Monk/Cleric (class and a half) of Horus
Magnus, Gnome Druid of Belenus
Eliam, Half-Elf (Elven lineage) Cleric/Wizard of Lugh
Homonoea, Human Dragonslayer/Giant Killer (class-and-a-half) of Athena
Endur “the Thick”, Human Fighter of Gobniu
Rok, Half-Orc Fighter of Crom
Anne, Elven Cleric/Rogue of Laeroth

Thorthic Norain, Dwarven Barbarian/Cleric of Thor

Game Diary:
The party arrived an hour away from the abandoned village of Somber Grove (previously known several generations back as Wrenwald, named after the Wrenwald noble family of magic-users that ruled the town). The day was quite overcast. It had rained for several day prior, the ground was still wet, and in the warm weather of mid-June there was an ever present fog that drifted across the ground (giving any small creature 3/4 cover and medium creatures 1/2 cover).

Upon entering the town they saw that the buildings had taken a lot of weather damage over the last half century or so. Thatched roofs had caved in with some young trees poking through, doors hung on hinges, shutters on windows had mostly fallen to the ground, and vegetation had long since spread untamed. Due to the frequent rain and the fact that the town had been built near a swamp that had expanded over time, there were frequent patches of swampy water to be found.

The first building the group entered was the old inn and tavern. The sign had long since fallen off the chains that held it above the door and the name weathered away. Half the group entered the building (Eliam, Gwar, Anne, Homonoea) while the other half remained outside (Sanwyche, Jabari, Magnus, Rok, Thorthic) to guard the horses and mules. Those that entered made their way upstairs to the rooms and although most had open doors and empty rooms, two were that were closed. Eliam noted some old, faded variations of arcane marks on the doors. One represented housing for a wizard, another for an illusionist. Anne successfully unlocked the doors and they made their way into rooms sealed and untouched by the years (whereas the rest of the inn/tavern had cracks in the walls, fallen plaster, etc., where the weather had long since found its way in). Detect magic told Eliam that there was magic in a locked drawer in a nightstand. Anne unlocked it (and was able to avoid the contact poison on the lock which had lost its strength over time). Inside the drawers were four long forgotten arcane spells from levels 1-4 (there were four wizard scrolls in the wizard room and four illusionist scrolls in the illusionist room). This process of exploring the inn/tavern, unlocking the locks, and taking note of the scrolls took around 10 minutes. Unnoticed by the group once they had entered the wizard/illusionist rooms was that sounds from the outside were silenced (perhaps to once help those staying in these rooms to study in peace?). That was when the other half of the group waiting outside were disturbed.

Harpy art from Pathfinder 2E

While waiting outside, the group (Sanwyche, Jabari, Magnus, Rok, Thorthic) heard a beautiful melody drifting down the road going east. Everyone but Sanwyche failed their Charisma save (luckily paladin’s have Charisma as prime, and St. Agathos provides a further bonus vs. fear/charms for his worshipers). The group entered a trance and headed toward the song. Sanwyche followed and discovered that the singing was coming from a large abandoned warehouse. He looked inside and found a bird-woman flying 15 feet in the air (he had never seen a harpy before, especially one of this kind, so the creature remained mysterious to him) with two giant frogs attending her song. He closed the two large, 15 foot high barn doors just as his entranced companions arrived. He wrapped an extra flail through the door handles. The entranced companions were too mentally inhibited to deal with the intricacies of his flail knot, but there were two massive windows open on either side of the doors and his companions headed to the windows to climb in.

The harpy was able to see from her height that four of the five people were enchanted and while singing pointed at the paladin for her giant frogs to attack. They lept through the windows and Sanwyche had a fight ahead of him! Quickly he was swallowed by a frog and from the bite and swallowing was being squeezed to death from inside. He couldn’t use his two handed sword, but he did have daggers, so pulled them out and began to stab at it from the inside. Eventually he tore a hole open and climbed out of the frog only to have the other lunge toward him to bite! With his two-handed sword back in action the last frog was killed.

By now his companions were entering the warehouse through the windows and the harpy picked up the adorable Magnus, she enjoyed having the gnome druid in her arms, err, claws! Sanwyche fired an arrow from his longbow and hit her. She then decided to tear the gnome apart with her claws and bite, this ended her song, but she knew that the effects would linger for a few more seconds. Her attacks didn’t kill Magnus…initially. But it didn’t take long for her claws and bite to take him to negative hit points and unconsciousness. Jabari, made a monk leap to attack, but rolled a one and fell face-first into the dirt floor (he must have still been recovering from the enchanting song). Rok lept up and with several blows cut through her waist and she fell to the ground – as well as Magnus. He was now a single hit point away from bleeding out. But fortunately the frogs and harpy were now dead. First aid was administered to Magnus and Thorthic provided healing to him and Sanwyche. They searched her nest (which was high up on a third floor shelf) and managed to find some statuary, decorative bracers, and a well made, but simple cap.

By this time the inn/tavern explorers had exited the building, saw their abandoned animals and went to find their friends. Deciding to house their animals in the large and now safe warehouse, they began exploring the rest of Somber Grove. The eastern edge had small plots of land for growing herbs (useful components for magic-users). They noticed that the vegetation was long overgrown, but still somewhat healthy. But as they looked at the farming plots heading north, they saw that the plant matter became progressively more lifeless. There was one solid stone structure in town – a guard tower very close to them. They entered and went to the top to survey the area. They had entered Somber Grove from the south west and had now explored the entire south street and a portion of the east street. Looking north west they could see abandoned stables for possibly exotic animals. Directly north were some old greenhouses and magic-user housing (hostel-style), and to the north east a road led to an old walled estate about an hour away. It was clear that this was the Zombraire estate that they wanted to eventually visit. Eliam’s twilight vision (which I decided was working on this very cloudy day) and tied with an exceptional observation check he made, I described that he could see within the walls of the estate a garden being plowed by a skeletal ox led by what was possibly a zombie-like farmhand and his zombie family. This was disturbing indeed! But our session had run out of time and the exploration they want to make in the rest of town before heading to the estate will have to wait for the next adventure in two weeks.

Subduing a Dragon (or other Monster) in Castles & Crusades

Have you ever thought of subduing monsters? This has come up numerous times for my players and so I have taken a closer look at this, since I want my players to have the greatest array of options when it comes to how they can deal with monsters they encounter.

Subduing monsters has existed in previous editions of D&D (AD&D 1st edition, for example, had unique rules for attempting to subdue dragons, which is what inspired my deeper look into this, for subduing a dragon – or draconic creature – will become an option in one of my Castles & Crusades campaigns). I would like to present some scenarios as to how this might be done using the C&C rules as written and present some homebrew adjustments I will be making. Even if you don’t use C&C, the discussion that follows might be of interest to you.

What is subduing?
From the C&C Castle Keepers Guide (3rd printing, p.316): “Subduing an opponent or monster is a form of establishing dominance. This only succeeds if the opponent or monster believes the person doing the subduing is superior or has been convinced that any established bond is reciprocal. Subdual most often involves a physical contest but may involve more, depending on the intelligence (and memory) of the opponent. Creatures completely lacking any sort of intelligence, such as a skeleton or a green slime, cannot be subdued. Creatures of bug-level intelligence could possibly be subdued for short periods of time, but they would tend to resort to instinct.” [I will note that, for me, there may be exceptions to that last sentence. My Barrowmaze group may have subdued an Amber Golem without realizing it! Like with anything, if a player makes a good case for accomplishing something, or comes up with a genuinely creative solution to a problem, exceptions may arise.]

More from the CKG (ibid): “Animals, particularly those of the herd or pack variety, are programmed to dominate or be dominated. It is simply a physical contest where the strongest is the boss. This would last until the boss demonstrates significant weakness or poor judgment. The wolf who cannot lead his pack to food may himself become food. Lower end human-level intelligence creatures would follow a similar code, although the initial subdual may not require a physical contest at all. Intimidation may be enough. Higher intelligence creatures would certainly require more than a physical contest to be subdued.”

For the Barrowmaze group there have already been attempts at dominance made with wolves and lycanthropes (one player has become a werewolf), and with the rules that follow, we will be able to deal with this much more clearly and successfully in the future. My Dragonclaw Barony group may also find this useful with their future dealings with dragons (and other draconic creatures), and giants.

How does subduing work?
Subduing may begin as a physical contest but can evolve into a test of wills. Again, from the CKG (ibid): “[subduing] comes by defeating the foe in non-lethal combat, thus demonstrating to the foe your superiority. The attacker succeeds at this through unarmed combat, or by using the “flat” of a weapon, that is, by using the weapon in such a way as to deal non-lethal damage. The weapon will do the same damage as far as hit points go, but the majority of this damage is temporary or “bruising” damage, which will heal relatively quickly.”

To attempt subdual, the creature must be reduced to at least 50% of its hit points, although some monsters may require more. For example, bringing a normal animal to at least 50% would be enough for a check to be made (detailed below), but I would probably require bringing a dragon or giant very close to 0 hit points before it surrenders or submits.

Control is gained by making a successful, relevant, attribute saving throw (add attribute bonus plus level). [The CKG says to roll a successful Charisma saving throw, but in my view a character could do this by other class-specific means that make it a lot more fun and relevant to the PC, as I explain]. What do I mean by “relevant?” It depends on the class doing it. For a paladin it would be Charisma, for a Dragonslayer, Dexterity, for a Giant Killer, Strength. Your class will determine the method you will use to attempt subdual – it will be unique to each character. This means the Challenge Base will be 12, since the check will always be based on the character’s best prime attribute.

The Challenge Level added to the Challenge Base will be equal to the creature’s hit dice or level. Additionally, in this contest, any damage the character has taken will affect the outcome of the saving throw, since the creature will perceive the PC as being weaker and easier to defeat. For every level’s worth of hit points the character has taken in damage (rounded down), you reduce the number they add to their roll by 1.

Example [from the CKG, (ibid)]: “A 7th level bard, Amanoth, with a primary attribute of charisma 14 attempts to gain control of a griffon. The creature’s hit dice is 7 making the challenge class a 19. The character rolls a 13, receives a +1 for his attribute modifier and a +7 for his level for a result of 21. The check is successful, and the character gains control. However, if Amanoth had taken half his hit points in damage, the character would only add 3 to the roll for his level. The result is very different: 13 +1 + 3 for a total of 17. The subdual fails. If the attribute check is successful, the character gains control of the creature. If the attribute check is unsuccessful, then the creature is unaffected.”

As you can see, it is not just the creatures hit points that play a role in subduing them, you must appear strong and dominant yourself!

Maintaining Control
Keeping the creature subdued may require a series of attribute checks. Quoting from the CKG again (p.316):
“Checks may be required whenever the subdued creature’s life is endangered or when the master commits some sort of significant error. Times to check subdual:

• If ill-treated.
• If forced into evil/good actions.
• Highly stressful situations.
• Master very weak.

Keeping a foe subdued may be a far more difficult job than the initial subdual. A creature treated well, and which shares an alignment with its master is less likely to rebel than a creature of opposing alignment or one which the character forces into dangerous or deadly situations. Chaotically aligned creatures, more individualistic by nature, are more likely to rebel, as are creatures of a higher hit dice than their master. Lawful creatures may be more likely to wait for an opportunity to defeat their master and usurp his place.

Remember that subdual always begins in defeat and fear. In time, it may grow into a devoted loyalty, but this is something that the master will have to work hard to earn.”

Applications for Subdual, and an Example of it in Action with a Dragon
Normal Monsters and Magical Beasts

The CKG example regarding the griffon is a great demonstration of how subduing would work with animals and some magical beasts.

Humanoid Opponents
You could also use this against humanoid opponents who you want to question or place under coercive influence. We have all read stories or seen TV shows or films where a villain is subdued into a submissive role working for someone they dislike or hate. This could be a tactic you use to achieve a similar result. Obviously, high level villains will have a lot more options before them, so this is by no means a guaranteed form of control (remember, they are not charmed), but it does offer an option. Imagine you have a rogue who wants to run a guild and you see another active thug as competition, if you can succeed in subduing this thug, you they might do your bidding and become your “muscle.” They might resent it and work to find a way out, however, if they admire strength and cleverness, in time they might realize that it is in their best interest to remain with you and their allegiance might switch from their previous employer to you.

Epic Monsters
What about something more epic like giants, or dragons? Have you considered getting a dragon to guard your treasure? Perhaps you want to ride a dragon? Perhaps you want to have a dragon as an advisor. What about bullying a troll to live under your bridge and collect tolls from those that pass over it? Why attack the city walls of your enemy when you can get a giant to do it for you? Some of the above examples are activities that these creatures frequently do on their own, so getting them to do it for you may not be as much of a stretch and they may find it reasonable or even enjoyable.

Still, these creatures are quite powerful, are they more resistant to subdual? In C&C Dragons get bonuses to their saving throws based on their age category and many are resistant or immune to certain types of fear, so all of these factors will increase the Challenge Level to subdue. A Young Adult Blue Dragon, for example, has 8 HD. A young Adult dragon also gets a +3 bonus to saving throws. Additionally, if you attack a dragon in its lair, I think they should have an advantage, since they know every nook and cranny of this location. I would give them an additional +1 for fighting them in their lair. I would then add all these numbers together to get a Challenge Level of 13, providing a total Challenge Class of 25. This would emphasize the dragon’s greater resistance to being controlled or defeated. If they had also cast Aid and Protection from Good on themselves, then the Challenge Class could increase to 27 or 28.

However, if someone in the party trying to subdue the dragon were a Dragonslayer (i.e., the Drachentöten class from the Codex Germania), then I might give them an additional +1 bonus to their roll since they are a class trained to deal with and defeat these monsters. Also, in my games the god the players choose for their characters gives them abilities similar to what worshipers got as Specialty Priests in AD&D 2nd edition. So, if you worship a god that is focused on destroying these creatures (such as Thor when it comes to striking down Giants), then I might give the player a +1 bonus for that as well. Finally, if you are attacking in large numbers, then that is bound to influence the monster you are trying to subdue. In my campaigns I want a large group of PCs – usually 10 – since I want my players to have the most options available to them and my campaigns tend to be very dangerous, so if I have five players and they each have two characters, they could lose one character during an adventure and keep going. Plus, having additional members of a class such as rogues and clerics adds to the different ways you can heal or find/remove traps. Having a large group will also pose a greater intimidating challenge to the dragon they are trying to defeat, and I might give the character attempting to subdue the dragon an additional +1 for every character that is currently standing with them.

So, let us look at a more complicated example of a party trying to subdue a dragon.

Green Dragon (art from Wizards of the Coast, 2014)

George is a lawful good 10th level Dragonslayer who lives to slay or subdue dragons. He slays the chaotic evil ones but is open to subduing the lawful non-evil ones to do his bidding or to consult for their knowledge of the area. In this case he wants to subdue a local green dragon and use what it knows so that he can go slay a red dragon. He is part of a group of 10 adventurers that call themselves, rather boldly, “The Masters of Dragons.” The Masters of Dragons arrive at the lair of an adult lawful evil Green Dragon named Grawvish. Progressing through its lair they all take some damage from its traps but make it to his central chamber. There is some initial verbal sparring between George and Grawvish demanding the dragon submit to his will, but Drawvish laughs at these arrogant mortals and battle begins. The wizards might normally cast fireball and lightning bolt but George wants to subdue Grawvish, so they and the other spellcasters focus instead on controlling spells such as using entangle and web on Grawvish’s tail and wings to reduce its movement and reduce the effectiveness of its multiple attacks, leaving it to the warrior types to make the physical subdual attacks and damage. Grawvish breaths forth a horrific cloud of toxic gas that kills one of the wizards and brings a rogue and druid to a state of unconsciousness. There are now only 7 characters still active in the fight. George is doing the most to the dragon, using his Baldr’s Strike ability for twice maximum damage with each hit, and using Dragon Dancing to avoid getting hit by it in return. Still, the dragon knows that George is the greatest threat to it, and he has knocked George down to ¼ of his maximum hit points. It so happens, though, that at this same moment George has also (with the assistance of the other fighters, barbarians, and monks in the group) reduced it to just above 0 hit points with their subdual attacks. George now demands that Grawvish submit to him. Now it is time for George to make his check.

Here are George’s numbers: normally he would get +10 for his level, but because he is only at ¼ his maximum hit points, it is only +2. His Dexterity modifier is +2. He is a Dragonslayer, so I give him another +1. He worships a god of hunting, so I decide to give him another +1 for the skill his god has given him. Normally I would give him another +9 to his roll because of the other nine members of his party, but because three of them are down, he only gets another +6.

So, he will roll a 1d20 +2 (weakened 10th level character), + 2 (Dex), +1 (unique character class) + 1 (deity bonus) + 6 (characters reinforcing him). Or put more simply: 1d20 + 2 + 2 +1 + 1 + 6.

The Challenge Base begins at 12 since it will be a prime check for George. The Green Dragon is a Young Adult (8 HD) for a +8. I am giving it a +3 for its Age Category. It is fighting in its lair, so I give it another +1. And it had time to cast Aid on itself, and I have decided that the +1 bonus the spell provides should be added to its Challenge Level to resist.

So, the Challenge Level will be 8 + 3 +1 +1 = 13.

The final Challenge Class will be Challenge Base 12 + Challenge Level 13 = 25.

George rolls 1d20 +12.

This will be difficult, for George will have to roll 12 or higher to succeed in his subdual attempt. And he rolls…

How ‘bout you roll a d20 to see if George succeeded? What did you get? Did George succeed in subduing Grawvish? Will George be able to get the information he seeks for the nearby Red Dragon he wishes to hunt and kill?

As you can see from this example, there are a lot of variables. In my game your class, god, and how many people you have supporting you will play a roll [pun intended] in your success, as well as how much health you have when you attempt to subdue the creature – you need to get the creature’s hit points down while keeping yours up.

Whether you use the more simplified Castles & Crusades system for a ranger or barbarian that wants to subdue a wolf or owlbear, or add a few more homebrew variables like I will add for more challenging monsters like giants and dragons, this adds great new options for players to consider for game play.

RPG Product Review: Taverns, Inns, and Shops

City Sites: Taverns, Inns, and Shops. We all need them in our RPG games. In the review I am doing today I will take a look at the options from three companies: Fantasy City Sites and Scenes designed by Philip Reed. Remarkable Shops and Remarkable Inns by LoreSmyth. And The Book of Taverns, Volumes 1-3 by Necromancer Games.

First up is is Philip Reed’s Fantasy City Sites and Scenes books. There are currently two, but a third was successfully kickstarted recently and I should have it in a few months. I really love this series that Reed does and will admit that they are my favorite of the three product lines that I will be reviewing here. What is there to like?

Each site is displayed on a two facing pages (see below). You usually get a picture of an NPC or an important object, and a picture of the establishment. The artwork is very good (I especially love the buildings). Tying all the pictures together is background text and adventure hooks. It is just what you need to run the site. You could even run some of these on the fly, and to have everything on two facing pages makes it very easy to use. Some of the locations and the people are tied together across the two books (and presumably the upcoming third). Thus, you could plan some of this ahead of time to construct a larger subplot in towns, city neighborhoods, and districts. Of course, you can ignore the tie-ins if you prefer, and I have in some instances, since I have taken some of the locations described in these two books and spread them across three towns in one campaign, and others are being placed in separate campaign I run. Still, if you want to build up a network of related characters Reed gives that option to you.

At the end of each book is a chapter called “City Scenes” which is broken down into “Daytime Scenes” and “Nightime Scenes.” There are 20 options for each and they each get a generous sized paragraph. This gives the GM the option to randomly roll or specifically choose a scene if players wander down a particular street or alley. These add a lot of character to a street scene as characters walk through a town, and within some paragraphs you can roll another die to change the details up some more, so these scenes are reusable.

The material is all system neutral, so regardless of what fantasy RPG you run you’ve got something that will work for it. The character art sometimes leans towards a D&D 5E feel, but not overly so. This is a versatile game product. The paper stock is also sturdy, so the book will last. I am also very happy to support Reed’s products on Kickstarter, since (so far) he delivers the PDF as soon as the Kickstarter ends and delivers the physical product on time (or early) within a month or two. Finding a person who delivers a Kickstarter on time is rare (in my experience), so when you find someone who does, and it is of such high quality, I will give them my future support.

Next is LoreSmyth’s Ultimate Guide to Remarkable Inns & their Drinks and Remarkable Shops. These books are broken down into two areas, the first half of the books are examples of Inns or Shops, each example usually gets 4 pages dedicated to it. Each establishment begins with a chart breaking down wealth, prices, security, authority, rooms, services, talent, disposition. It’s a nice quick reference for those GMs looking for a place within a particular price range or service. The next couple of pages describe the details of the place, along with the race/class of the staff and notable patrons. An example menu or chart is then provided giving the GM items with some unique character to use to help the place stand out. You have a lot to work with here. However, although largely system-neutral, these example establishments have a strong D&D 5E focus and feel to them. So if you have a 5E-ish exotic high-fantasy world with tieflings, aasimar, dragonborn, genasi, etc. then this will give you a lot of new material to work with. On the other hand, if you prefer mysterious and enigmatic creatures to remain mysterious, enigmatic, and rare in your campaigns, then you might struggle with some of these example institutions. I am in the latter category, and although I can swap out some of these NPCs for something else, in some cases I’ve decided it won’t be worth the effort. When it comes to these sections of the books I think I may only be able to use about 1/3 of the shops/inns listed (whereas with the Philip Reed books, they are broader in scope and I can use 90% or more of his material in my campaigns).

But there is still the last half of these books to consider. These sections have titles like: “Bring Your Inns/Shops To Life” and “Creating Your Own Inn/Shop.” These sections are filled with lists, charts, and descriptive text, to help you work out the dispositions of shopkeepers, their security measures, wealth & prices, services, work & training, custom items, sample floor plans, etc. There is an amazing amount of material here to create your own shops and inns (sample picture below). This is where the strength of these two products lie. This material is more system neutral then the examples in the first half of the books and can be dropped into more fantasy RPG settings.

Since these two books are roughly 100 pages each, that means you will get 50 pages of example shops and inns, and 50 pages of how to create your own. On the LoreSmyth website the PDFs go for around $15, softcovers $25, and both for $35. For D&D 5E and Pathfinder GMs this is quite worthwhile, for those that run old school games the price does does pose possible issues if you want PDFs and a softcover, since some of the sample inns/shops may not be useable. You will just have to decide how much 50 pages of tables/ charts/ descriptive text is worth to you. I supported three more LoreSmyth kickstarters recently (Remarkable Cults, Wondrous Expeditions – Forest, and Heroic Challenges Roleplaying Cards), and the cards have been great fun to use (I will review those another time), but I do wonder about future books in this series, since so far it seems I will only use about 60% of the content in them, and since there are other companies out there that do this sort of thing that are more in my mindset of medieval low fantasy, I think I might be better to focus on them.

Finally, we arrive at Necromancer Games and the Book of Taverns series. There have been three volumes completed so far. Each softcover is 20 pages with two taverns, so you are getting 10 pages dedicated to each tavern. They are pitched as system neutral. The strength of these is for those that want a fully detailed tavern. Each tavern has roughly two pages of background, two pages of NPCs, a full page menu, and five pages of floor plans with each room getting a paragraph description. If you have not detailed an area in your campaign and are happy to have a fully detailed tavern with backstory and accompanying NPCs, this will give it to you.

However, these are very niche taverns. If you buy volume 1 and don’t want a Greek-themed tavern based around philosophical debates, or a dive bar located on the docks, then this probably won’t interest you. You will want to look at the contents of each volume ahead of time to see if it will work in your campaign.

Since there is so much developed for each tavern, it does give me a lot to work with, and if I don’t want to use it all I can obviously leave some of it out and re-write portions of it. Of the six taverns designed for these three volumes, I think I might use four of them, but it will require more effort on my part to bring them into my campaigns, and I will, in turn, probably want to build campaign-specific subplots around the ideas within to get the most out of the effort.

So, those are the three different product lines I wanted to look at for this post. I hope you found something useful in my review. Best of luck to you all in your design of taverns, inns, and shops!

Books on Northern European and Norse Religions

As a philosopher and historian, I have a great interest in understanding and reconstructing the past. This includes religion. During my days as a Classical studies undergraduate, I read a lot about Greek and Hellenistic religions, but now I have shifted into the Norse and Northern European traditions. Below I will review some of my favorite books in these areas (I should also mention that as a philosopher (Ph.D.) I read a lot in philosophy of religion both as a student and later as a philosophy instructor, but so much philosophy of religion focuses on the monotheistic religions. However, if you are examining pagan traditions you need to get a stronger grasp of polytheism, animism, and panpsychism. I plan to write a separate blog post on those areas).

Daniel McCoy’s book, The Viking Spirit, is the easiest book to read of those I’ve shown, and is written for the layperson. It is an enjoyable read that provides an overview of Norse religion and mythology. It is a great way to introduce yourself to the ideas, or as a light-hearted review if you are already familiar with the main concepts.

H.R. Ellis Davidson was a great scholar. I really love her writings, you can tell because I have several of her books! Myths and Symbols in Pagan Europe was the first book of hers that I read. When it comes to her other books, I am currently part way through all of them. I work through each somewhat slowly so that I can digest what she is saying, highlighting things along the way (I treat these books as if I were a graduate student again). Then, days, or even a few weeks later I return to the book, re-read what I had previously highlighted before continuing on for another chapter. I find her books are worth taking my time to explore. One book not shown here but one I intend to get is the first book she wrote: The Road to Hel: A Study of the Conception of the Dead in Old Norse Literature. This is another classic and I look forward to examining it.

The Thomas DuBois book: Nordic Religions in the Nordic Age, is a stand-out and respected academic volume if you want a rigorous source for the Nordic religions. Like the books of H.R. Ellis Davidson, I am working my way through this book at a slower place to increase my understanding. As the blurb on the back cover accurately says “DuBois examines Anglo-Saxon, Celtic, and Mediterranean traditions to locate significant Nordic parallels in conceptions of supernatural beings, cults of the dead, beliefs in ghosts, and magical practices. These beliefs were actively held alongside Christianity for many years, and were finally incorporated into the vernacular religious practice.” The book does an exemplary job of showing the interplay and exchange of ideas between these different cultures.

John Lindow’s: Norse Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs, is a thorough encyclopedic reference for all things related to Norse heroes, rituals, and beliefs, including insightful prefatory material examining concepts of mythic time, cyclical time, narrative, and language, to help the reader understand the encyclopedic entries that follow for the main body of the book. As an encyclopedia, this is not a book you read cover to cover (although I would recommend that you read the first chapters on conceptions of time), but dip in when you need a clear and detailed clarification on a concept.

I also find it informative to study modern practices in Norse Paganism. The views presented will vary depending on whether the author leans towards reconstructionism, or eclecticism (in how they present and interpret beliefs and practices). One also has to be attentive when exploring this literature, since Norse Paganism has a problem with a vocal minority of white supremacists trying to appropriate the symbols and beliefs of Northern European faiths for their own muddled ideology. The Asatru/Norse Paganism books I have shown above are not written by racists.

Patricia Lafayllve’s A Practical Heathen’s Guide to Asatru has very informative chapters on conceptions of time, land spirits, charms, magic, ethics, and rituals.

Ryan Smith’s The Way of Fire and Ice: Living Traditions of Norse Paganism has chapters on how to develop practices and core ideas with a focus on building community (a healthy and supportive community).

Both these books I have only dipped into. I am currently focused on academic examinations of the ancient and medieval traditions on which to build a foundation – I want to understand the beliefs as much as I can from the perspective of the original practitioners (which is admittedly difficult since we have only fragmentary archeological and historical evidence to rely upon). Then, with a semi solid historical foundation I will more confidently move into modern practices to see how they have taken past views and re-interpreted them to meet the current challenges facing our societies. And as I alluded to earlier, I am also reading through academic texts on polytheism, animism, and panpsychism, for these are the philosophical and religious ideas which underlie past and current pagan practices, and as a philosopher I have the need to analyze and critique the foundational concepts and themes being drawn upon to see how they hold up to examination. The problem with being a philosopher is the constant need to obsessively question, examine, and interrogate concepts! It can be very tiresome to systematically dismantle and reform ideas, but it is oh so fulfilling when you discover a new way in which to view, or interpret, the world!

Castles & Crusades Diary: Barrowmaze, Session 64

1. Attacked by a unique variant of cockatrice, Gnoosh, our gnome rogue/illusionist is nearly turned to stone – twice – through bite attacks!
2. Activating a trap, the Army of the Light is chased down flights of stairs with a giant boulder rolling after them!

Gnoosh, Gnome Rogue/Illusionist of Baravar
Llewelyn, Elf Cleric/Wizard of Sehanine
Astrid, Human Skald of Hel
Ria, Human Pacer of Loki
Remi, Gnome Harlequin (Rogue/Illusionist) of Hermes
Tiberius, Human Paladin of St. Ingrid
Roulf, Half-Orc Drachentoten (i.e. Dragonslayer) of Crom
Edward, Human Bard of St. Cecilia
Aturash, Half-Orc Berserker of Odin
Orwin, Half-Elf (human lineage) Fighter/Drachentoten of St. Agathos

Inaros, Human Cleric of Osiris

Game Diary:
The group left off last time on a cliffhanger at the doorway of a room with two cockatrice bounding toward them.

Cockatrice (art from D&D 5E Monster Manual)

We began the session with an initiative roll. The players held their attacks and the cockatrice, although 40 feet away, launched themselves into the air and used their wings to soar right into melee combat. Some might think of cockatrice as creatures that petrify people with a gaze attack (like so many other monsters of that type, like medusa and basilisks), and although I frequently use the Labyrinth Lord monsters (which is what Barrowmaze was designed for), I chose to use the Castles & Crusades version instead. In C&C the cockatrice transmits petrification through a bite attack. I found that a lot more interesting, and it allowed me to potentially catch some players off guard who might otherwise rely on prior game knowledge (one of the challenges I have as a GM is that although it is sometimes nice to have a player rely on prior knowledge to move an encounter or adventure forward, other times I want to show them something new they haven’t seen before).

Two characters were bitten by the two cockatrice. One passed their save, but Gnoosh did not. I told him that it felt like cold concrete was being injected into his veins and his skin began to turn gray in color and his body began to stiffen (I was not going to petrify him in one round, like many other bite attacks that inject something, I felt it should take some time to spread through his body). Since the cockatrice bite attack was described in the C&C Monsters & Treasure as: “A wound from the beast’s bite becomes instantly infected…” a player asked if a they could cast remove disease to cure him. I thought that sounded great, but I had them make a spellcaster check with the Challenge Level equaling the cockatrice HD to over ride the power of the bite. They succeeded. I began to describe how Gnoosh began to re-acquire his dark tan/brownish gnome complexion again. But then the next round came and it bit Gnoosh again AND he failed his save again! I described how just as he was getting his roguish flexibility back he felt the rush of the cold, petrifying, saliva enter his system again and he began to return to a grayish stone color. Most players were able to keep the magical beasts at bay with their polearms as well as cut them up with them, and a cleric stepped up and succeeded in removing the petrifying disease of the cockatrice a second time on Gnoosh.

A large room lay before them with a tantalizing chamber in the back, but they decided they didn’t want to take any more risks, shut the door, and headed in the opposite direction! I had never seen the group do this before, they have traditionally never left a room unexplored. Since they were in this area to find the missing body parts of Dhekeon, the undead fallen paladin seeking redemption (and if brought together, his body parts will re-attach), they decided to get on with that mission. His left arm pointed to where his next appendage was. They got to a door and Gnoosh went to unlock it but rolled a 1! When that happened I described how his lock picks broke. I also explained that it appears his fingers still had some stiffening residue left over from the cockatrice bites. So Remi stepped up and as it happened, effortlessly unlocked the door!

They eventually got to a stone door that neither of the rogues could open. They knew somewhere behind it Dhekeon’s body parts were located, so they took out their sledges and broke it down. They then saw a series of stairs that slowly went up in a loose spiral pattern into an ever tightening center point (see map picture).

The stone trap (map from Barrowmaze Complete).

They got to the top and on the door there was an inscription: “Knock and Pull to Enter the Crypt of Mahle Royc.” They discussed what this could mean, eventually deciding to knock once and pull the pull ring. Apparently that was not the correct decision and a massive stone boulder fell from above. Dexterity saves were made, those that failed were hit for damage and the boulder roll over them (crushing some of their potions), those that passed were now being chased by the boulder as it descended the stairs after them! They had to make several more saves as they ran from the pursuing boulder, eventually making it to the bottom. There was a lot of healing that needed to get done when that was over. They then made their way back towards the top of the stairs and entered the crypt. There stood Dhekeon’s legs attached to his hip. Dhekeon’s lower body walked towards them. They already had his left and right arms, so all that remained was his torso and head and he would be complete. The crypt of this once mighty warrior – Mahle Royce – held his body in a full chain suit in incredible condition (and magical!). Roulf took that for himself.

The group was worn out and out of spells. They wanted to head back to Ironguard Motte. As they made their way out of the Crypt of Mahle Royce there were ghouls waiting for them (it seems that those that hid away Dhekeon’s body parts in the crypts knew the Army of the Light would go after it and set up undead to attack them). The ghouls were destroyed – they were much less challenging than the cockatrice and the crushing boulder! But it further depleted the groups resources. They left through a new exit they discovered and made their way back to town.

In the past they would take a few weeks off to rest, but this time they decided to heal up with curative spells and head back the following day to seek out the final body parts of Dhekeon. The players seem to be changing up the way they do things. This is understandable, since in an email I sent them prior to this session, I pointed out that they are mostly past the “easy” parts of the Barrowmaze and that things are going to get a lot more difficult going forward. I am guessing they have decided to be more cautious as a result, perhaps in part because three of the 10 characters in this session were level 1 and one was level 2 (40% of the group were newcomers). We did have four characters that were level 5-6, and having 10 PC’s in a party plus an NPC increases their chance for survival, but at this stage in the Barrowmaze 1st level characters have a much higher likelihood of perishing (although these new 1st level characters are all lawful good and the group was sorely lacking lawful good characters before, so having these lawful good characters is going to help them in the long run versus the undead and the forces of chaos, plus, with the higher amount of monster XP and treasure – I use the Gold Piece = XP rule – the low level characters will level up quite swiftly…if they survive). I look forward to seeing how this group takes on their next challenge!

Norse History Books

As a philosopher and historian, I crave the ability to understand the past. One of the areas I focus on is Norse history from the Viking era and how it connects with what preceded it and how future generations have developed from it. Below are some of the books that I have read or am reading that are informing me.

Neil Price’s books on Viking history and late Iron Age cognitive archaeology.

Neil Price is a great resource for understanding Viking Age-Scandinavia. The Viking Way, based on his Ph.D. examines the cognitive archaeology of late Iron Age Scandinavia. He provides insights into Iron Age Scandinavian beliefs on deities such as Óðinn and Þórr, and Norse magical practices (e.g. Galdr – incantations, and Seiðr – norse magic concerned with fate). I am only a couple of chapters into this book, but I really enjoying the in-depth academic investigation into late iron age Norse magic and sorcery. I really feed off of a solid academic book that has a point to make on a particular subject matter and does it by comparing and contrasting their research with others who have researched in that area.

Children of Ash and Elm is Price’s thorough (624 pages) overview of the Viking Age, . Since he is an archaeologist, this book will provide the perspective of an archeologist, examining their politics, cosmology, and religion.

Byock’s classic Medieval Iceland, the Book of Settlements (Landnámabók) and The Book of the Icelanders (Íslendingabók).

Jesse Byock has done extensive writing on the Viking Age, having done translations of many Norse sources. I have acquired his book Medieval Iceland: Society, Sagas, and Power to gain a better contextual understanding when I read the Sagas.

The Íslendingabók is a short work which describes the settlement of Iceland, the establishment of the Alþingi (Assembly), partitioning Iceland into quadrants, the discovery of Greenland, and the Icelandic conversion to Christianity c.1000 CE.

The Landnámabók tells the story of how the island of Iceland was found.

Haywood’s book is a straightforward history that progresses by region (for example, there is a chapter on Lindesfarne, followed by Paris, followed by Orkney). This allows me to dip in and read about a particular geographical region when needed.

Winroth’s book is a history by subject matter. So with this book I can read a chapter on ships, boats, and ferries if I am interested in that, then if my interests change to farm life, there is a chapter I can read on that.

Friðriksdóttir’s book covers women in the Viking world. This book takes the approach of what life would be like for a woman in that time from infancy to old age (each chapter covers a different time in a woman’s life).

I do have other books, but I consider these the highlights.

Castles & Crusades Diary: Dragonclaw Barony, session 24.

The Adventurers set off for new adventure to an abandoned village, are ambushed by Grimlocks, and find themselves in a cave complex that leads into the Underworld!

Jabari Rajul-min Alshrq, Human Monk/Cleric (class and a half) of Horus
Magnus, Gnome Druid of Belenus
Ser Sanwyche Gryffyn, Human Paladin of St. Agathos
Gwar, Half-Orc Barbarian of Crom
Eliam, Half-Elf (Elven lineage) Cleric/Wizard of Lugh
Homonoea, Human Dragonslayer/Giant Killer (class-and-a-half) of Athena
Rok, Half-Orc Fighter of Crom
Anne, Elven Cleric/Rogue of Laeroth

Thorthic Norain, Dwarven Barbarian/Cleric of Thor

Game Diary:
After a month off, the Adventurers set off for Somber Grove to explore the Zombraire Estate. Somber Grove – previously called Wrenwald – had once been a village run by a noble family of magic-users known as the Wrenwalds. They ruled with a tight fist placing heavy taxes on the inhabitants (but protecting them the beasts from the nearby marsh). The bards say that one night a swamp witch by the name of Julianne demanded entrance to Wrenwald and Lord Justin Wrenwald III (who was reigning at the time) laughed at the hag. She then is said to have cursed him and his family, bringing forth evil from the Dark Realm. Some of the inhabitants died, others transformed into undead, and everyone else left.

Now, ages later, the abandoned village is known as Somber Grove. The road that passes by the ruins (large portions of which have now been swallowed by swamp) is itself largely abandoned as traffic and trade in the eastern portion of the Dragonclaw Barony have shifted elsewhere.

But of course there are rumors. Rumors of the wealth of the Wrenwalds acquired through taxation. They were also a family of magic-users – will there be lost and forgotten spell books and magic items? There is rumors that Lord Wrenwald may have also had powers over healing – or at least had access to great healing. Wealth, magic, and healing are good reasons in themselves to go on an adventure, but some also were interested in banishing undead and cursed hags and swamp beasts.

And so they set off on horseback (with Thorthic on a ram, and another on a mule). It would take a day-and-a-half to arrive at Somber Grove. It was during a gentle June day that they set off on their mouns and arrived at a point they know well from previous trips, a place where the river meets Dragon Lake. It is a common place to settle down for those on mounts and wagons. They set up some shelters and settled in for the evening.

Although it had been raining, as the evening progressed the rain came to an end. It was on third watch that Eliam noticed some movement just out of the orange glow of the campfire. Something was moving about behind the cover of boulders and shrubs. He fired an arrow but missed. Homonoea and Rok noticed this (they were also on watch) and Rok ran charged forward and saw the grayish skin and white blind eyes of the underworld dwelling muscular monstrous humanoids know as Grimlocks.

A Grimlock (art from the AD&D 2nd edition Monstrous Manual).

Rok noticed there were three preparing to attack their camp. He began the fight. Rok is a powerful warrior and with the help of his friends they destroyed these evil beings with only minimal pain on their side.

The next morning the group discussed this attempted Grimlock ambush. They had been attacked at night by Grimlocks when they passed through this area a month before. They wanted to know what was going on. So they put their trip to Somber Grove on hold and chose to look into this. Magnus found a nearby group of rabbits and using his gnome and druid abilities spoke with them about the gray-skinned monsters which passed through at night. The rabbits shared their fears and knowledge of these night monsters, and with that and the tracking abilities of Anne (her god Laeroth gives her ranger tracking abilities) they were able to follow the tracks of the Grimlocks back to their underground lair (the rain the previous day had made the ground soft and the tracks had stuck around).

Gwar and Rok led the way into the dark cave. As half-orcs they had vision useful for the dark, and all those that carried torches remained around 20 feet behind so as not to reduce the effectiveness of their dark sight. It is was also good that they were barbarians and fighters, for after descending at a 30° incline for about 150 feet they saw the passage open into a small cavern to their left, a small cavern to the right, and continue into a large cavern straight ahead. They detected sounds to their right and peaked around the corner. There they saw three Grimlocks eating some fresh elves…raw and uncooked.

They told the rest of the group. Eliam, as a worshiper of Lugh, has the ability to summon a circle of light in a 100 foot radius, he did so, blinding these creatures (they are blinded by bright light). The huge sphere of light lit up all three of the caverns. The group could see that the left cavern was were they placed all their victim’s goods, as well as their own. The right chamber was were they ate their victims, and an immense northern chamber in front of them was where five more Grimlocks were revealed to be huddled together in a circle chanting in a whisper.

The three Grimlocks to the right charged toward the group. Eliam cast sound burst at the five Grimlocks in the north. Along with being susceptible to light, Grimlocks are also susceptible to sound, and now these five were blind and deaf. Rok, Homonoea, and Thorthic took on the three closest Grimlocks in melee.

When creatures are blind and deaf, they are getting negatives to hit in C&C which can exceed -7. My Grimlocks were destined to lose under those circumstances! And lose they did from extra sound bursts and magic missiles.

With the Grimlocks destroyed, the group examined the Grimlock caverns. By examining the loot, they discovered based on the treasure that was uncovered that one of the elves had been a noble accompanied by a bodyguard and three servants. The treasure found included a: gold with gemstone orb (worth 7,500 gp), silver urn (250 gp), gold necklace (1,000 gp), a leather jerkin (50 gp), and four gems (2,100 gp).

A brief GM aside on how I do treasure:
When it comes to lair loot based on a random encounter, I let the players roll on the treasure tables I am using and we all have to respond to what they get or don’t get. In this case the random table rolls resulted in several expensive “worn and ceremonial” items, and as the rolls revealed an expensive orb, necklace, and gems, that was how I began developing the narrative on the fly of the elves being connected to a noble. Initially they had just noticed that 40% of four elves had been devoured, it was only when they began digging through the treasure – and rolling on the treasure tables – that I had an opportunity to create a new narrative and subplot that could be explored at a later time. Now the players are interested in learning more about who this elf noble was and I am looking forward into designing and inserting this into the campaign – a whole new avenue for adventure will emerge from this!

In the furthest north portion of the large chamber the group noticed there was a narrow 3 foot wide opening in that went further and deeper into the underworld, but they chose to pursue this later and instead headed back to the surface and continue their trip to Somber Grove.

They traveled until late afternoon and stopped an hour away from Somber Grove. It was here that they chose to make camp for the evening and enter the abandoned village the next morning. Anne did notice there had been tracks of a zombie with a broken left foot that dragging on the ground, and a skeleton where the heel of the right foot was intact, but the front of the skeletal foot touched the ground. The area had small rest sites where young teens from the nearby villages had come on a dare to demonstrate their bravery among their peers, and some had gone missing – had the undead done it? Setting up camp, the group prepared for an undead encounter for the evening. And that was were we left off. In two weeks they enter Somber Grove and explore the Zombraire Estate!