Castles & Crusades Diary: Dragonclaw Barony, Session 29

Summary:
The adventurers battle Justin Wrenwald III, a cursed undead wizard and his mage followers at the top of his wizard tower. The battle becomes tight as the undead mages cast several sleep spells on the group, whittling them down.

PC’s:
Jabari Rajul-min Alshrq, Human Monk 1/Cleric 0 (class and a half) of Horus 
Magnus, Gnome Druid 2 of Belenus 
Endur “the Thick”, Human Fighter 2 of Gobniu 
Eliam, Half Elf (Elf lineage) Cleric 3/Wizard 3 of Lugh
Homonoea, Dragonslayer 1 of Athena
Rok, Half-Orc Fighter 2 of Crom

NPC:
Thorthic Norain, Dwarven Barbarian/Cleric of Thor

Game Session Diary:
We left off last session with the adventurers entering the manor house of the Wrenwalds (the wizard family that once ran the now abandoned town of Somber Grove, whose ruins they had been exploring the last few days). They had encountered a wraith (which had level-drained Jabari from level 1 to 0) in the Great Hall and now proceeded to explore the master bedroom.

In the master bedroom they found four skeletons with dusters and dressed as maids cleaning the room. The housecleaners were upset by the arrival of the dirty adventures that were entering the clean room and attacked. Blows from a Great axe, a magical pitchfork, and a monk’s fist destroyed the remains of the Wrenwald’s cleaning staff.

From there they proceeded to the kitchen and found a secret passage to the library of the Wrenwalds. A detect magic cast by Eliam revealed a blanket of magic covering all the bookshelves. He took a chance, touched the books, and after succeeding on a saving throw, managed to avoid acquiring a donkey tail and have his head turn into a donkey!

Working their way through a secret door behind a swiveling bookshelf, they arrived at a wizard’s tower where they were sure the remains of the Wrenwald mages would be found. Ascending the spiral stairs they arrived at a room with a large cage filled with seven trained stirges in a cage. The stirges began to fly out and attack, but Magnus cast calm animal, which relaxed 5 of the 7. After the two that got out were killed, they locked the cage and moved further up.

After passing through a navigator’s level with a telescope, star charts, lunar cycles, and maps of the Dragonclaw Barony (including maps of potential dragon lairs!), they continued to the top.

They entered a door marked with the name “Justin Wrenwald III,” upon entering, however, they saw nothing but some tables and books.

Was this it?

art by Holybejeebies from imgur

No! Justin Wrenwald III, who had turned into some kind of a strange undead creature (a “zombraire” in the Basic Fantasy game) over the decades, emerged – with two apprentices – from behind an illusionary boundary where the group thought the windows of the tower were located (the illusion simply made the windows appear further inward than they actually were allowing Wrenwald and his two wizard apprentices to remain unseen). Initially Wrenwald and the two mages attacked with daggers. They were getting beat up as warriors like Rok cut some aside with his great axe and Endur impaled one with his magical pitchfork and hurled it over his head through the air against a wall. As the rounds continued, Wrenwald ordered his mages to do what they are best at. Magic missiles were shot at Eliam and Rok (dropping Eliam to unconsciousness), and sleep spells were cast within the area. One-by-one the characters yawned and fell into a slumber on the ground. Eliam, Homonoea, Magnus, Jabari, and Thorthic, were now out of action. It was up to Rok and Endur to complete the task of destroying the undead mages. The last swipes of the great axe and pitchfork were made and the wizards fell.

Once wakened from their slumber (and getting Eliam back above 0 hit points), they discovered that Justin Wrenwald III had a large collection of spells to expand Eliam’s spellbook as well as a magic ring and a wand (later discovered by identify to be a ring of protection +2 and a wand of illusion.

They still had the family cemetery to explore, and the crypts revealed three more undead Wrenwalds (including a shadow). The loot included a staff of healing, which went to Jabari.

They all returned to the town of Dale and Eliam, Homonoea, Magnus, Jabari, and Endur all leveled up. They were going to take about 6 weeks off to train for some new abilities and then they will head to an old Grimlock lair they discovered a while back and descend into the underworld. What will lie under the earth for them to find?

Challenges with Kickstarter and Crowdfunding

I am considering shutting down my Kickstarter account in early 2022 after I have received the current outstanding projects I supported. There are several reasons I detail below having to do with issues I think are common to crowdfunding in general and personal reasons. I wonder if others have experienced the same frustrations and challenges.

I joined Kickstart in 2018 and within months I had become a “Superbacker” (i.e. pledged at least $10 to at least 25 projects). In roughly three years I’ve now supported over 120 projects and spent more money than I’d care to admit. There are several issues I am dealing with.

Issues with the Kickstarter/crowdfunding

  1. Products not delivered on time.
    As I write this blog there are worldwide shipping delays, and the COVID pandemic has made things difficult for over a year. But Kickstarter product delivery was an issue well before the pandemic. Sometimes the delays are due to first-time creators not understanding the time commitment from the period of creating to completing a project. But this is also a problem with some veteran companies. I can sometimes be forgiving to first-time creators that don’t deliver on time, but if you are a company that has been around for decades and created hundreds of products and you still don’t know how long it takes to get a project from the idea stage to publication, I am going to have issues continuing to support your Kickstarters.
  2. By the time you finally receive the project, you may no longer be interested in it.
    It can be so easy to get excited for something on Kickstarter and think it will fit into your campaign only to discover when it arrives on your doorstep 9 months later that this was just a fleeting thought that passed through your head at the time and is now no longer relevant. During a Kickstarter it is easy to get pulled in, you get caught up in the excitement created by others in the comments. You “click” to “pledge” your monetary support for the project vision and the money doesn’t get drained from your bank account for another 2-4 weeks, so it is easy to forget about what you’ve spent due to the space and time between pledging and the end date of the funding period. Compare that to being at your FLGS or a convention and holding the product in your hand. You can take your time and examine it. It has weight. The price is displayed on the back cover of the book. You have to pull out your credit card, or cash, to pay for it. You notice the cost and you can evaluate whether you truly need this item as you page through it. Although we’ve always been able to impulse buy at a brick and mortar store, crowdfunding like Kickstarter has made it easier, since it rarely seems real – you are seeing the fantastic possibilities and someone’s vision, but not necessarily the realities.
  3. Products were not what you expected or wanted.
    This has occurred the most for me when it comes to dice Kickstarters. I have just a wee bit of a dice addiction (I have more than I will ever need). Kickstarter initially made this worse. But now, strangely enough, it might be solving the problem, but what a learning curve I had to go through! There have been a lot of dice Kickstarters where you see marvelously crafted dice sitting on moss-covered rocks with atmospheric smoke drifting over and around them. Yet, when they are finally manufactured and delivered to you up to a year later, they don’t look like what was presented under the atmospheric and filtered lighting they used in their promotional videos and pictures. This has happened so many times that I have now stopped supporting dice Kickstarters.

    When it comes to RPG books I am pretty much done with glossy pages. With or without my glasses reading glossy pages are too much of a struggle and too annoying. When you support a Kickstarter you only occasionally know what the final product will look like. I am nearly to the point where if a book is produced with glossy pages I will skip it, and you usually only know this if you can hold the book in your hands. There are also layout problems that you won’t know about until you have the actual book in your hand (Kickstarter mock-ups always exaggerate certain aspects of the book, such as its thickness, to make it look larger than it is).

    One example of this was a KS for digest-sized booklets in a boxed set. When I received it, the pages were very glossy making it difficult for me to read. In addition, the font size used in the booklets were too small for me, and the interior columns nearest the spine requires the need to open the book wider to be able to see everything and this will cause the spines of the softcover digest books to deteriorate faster. If I could’ve seen the final result of this product, I would’ve skipped the KS and stuck with previous versions of this rule system I already had (or perhaps purchased digital where the glossiness does not apply, I can zoom in to increase the font size, and ruining binding doesn’t matter).

    The Need to Collect RPG Products: What’s with all the leather-bound “collector editions” with silk bookmarks that are now offered with virtually every RPG Kickstarter?
    I was initially quite excited when RPGs I already owned had a “special edition” or “alternate” cover, or they offered leather-bound covers with silk ribbons sewn in. I could continue to use the “normal” book and keep this beautiful “special” one on the bookshelf for its appearance and as a conversation piece with gaming friends. Some companies also do this with special edition woodgrain/white box sets as a homage to Original D&D. I initially got pulled into all this and got some leather-bound books and woodgrain/white box sets.

    But why? Even with the normal RPG books, I have so many of them that some only rarely get pulled from my shelves and looked at. Do I really need to spend a $100+ on a leather-bound edition to just sit and collect dust on a shelf and so I can occasionally point to it when my gaming friends come over so and show off how much money I spent on it and how special I am?

    These special editions were initially a unique novelty, and for those of us who have been gaming for roughly four decades and remember when gaming was laughed at and some products were made in someone’s garage on a low budget we can get caught up in these new fancy productions. But things have changed. Gaming is popular now. It’s mainstream. It’s “normal.” I now struggle to think of any major RPG book Kickstarted in the last year that hasn’t had leather-bound options with ribbon bookmarks. They all seem to have them now. How special is a “collector’s edition” when every company has “collector editions” and they have become the norm? Why spend all that money on books that aren’t used? Is it a “status” statement? For whom?

My Own Struggles

Pledging on KS can be addicting.

Addictive behavior can manifest itself in a lot of ways. Years ago on Facebook I became obsessed with getting “likes” and “shares” and spent hour upon hour “doom scrolling” through it and Twitter. I deleted both of them years ago, but perhaps by coincidence as I was leaving them I opened my Kickstarter account, and soon enough I found myself scrolling through KS trying to find something interesting that I “need to get” – that I “must have” – and I would reassure myself – if I noticed I was spending too much money on something I didn’t really need – that I was “helping someone else out.”

Final Thoughts

A part of me would really love to cancel my Kickstarter account right now. But I have projects I’ve supported that won’t get delivered until March of 2022 (and, of course, many of them will be delivered months late). If I cancel KS for my own peace of mind and to free myself of its hold, I may not receive the products I supported. More and more I try to avoid visiting Kickstarter and getting pulled into supporting something I don’t need, yet, I have to somehow go at least 7 months not supporting KS until I receive my final item before closing things down. But Kickstarters and Indiegogos are discussed constantly on social media. Companies you support constantly bombard you with emails promoting their latest crowd-funding project. Even old Kickstarters that have long since been completed and you received the products are still used by companies to promote their latest KS. It is a never-ending cycle of in-your-face advertising and promotion. It wears you down sometimes (at least it wears me down). To get out of this cycle, I think, is going to be a real challenge since you can’t really quit cold turkey. For some just pulling back from supporting so any crowdfunding projects is enough, but I don’t think that will work for me.

I look forward to shifting back to buying most RPG products in the traditional way. Which is to visit my FLGS, or a vendor booth at a convention, and page through the product. Feel it in my hand. Pay attention to how it was made. Reflect on its content. Consider its cost. And think about whether I really need it or really want it. It is time to slow things down and try not to get caught up in the never-ending hype and propaganda of the latest promotion of the week (or the day, or the hour).

Has anyone else felt the same way on this? If so, what has been your solution?

Review of the Castles & Crusades Castle Keepers Guide (3rd printing)

The Castle Keepers Guide is one of the top GM guides you can get. Although it is made for Castles & Crusades (and includes C&C stats for a numerous variety of subjects), it has a wealth of material in its 370 pages that is system neutral and nearly all of it can apply to any fantasy RPG.

The Cover Logo Font and Cover Art
I received my third printing of the Castle Keepers Guide (CKG) from Troll Lord Games (TLG) yesterday and the book is a beauty! It seems TLG is introducing a new look for their C&C products and I welcome this. I remember when I first noticed C&C books at my FLGS in 2017, the font used on the covers of their books appeared to resemble what I interpreted as a far-east samurai font, and I initially assumed C&C was a non-western fantasy game and I just moved on to the next RPG books on the shelf (fortunately, the FLGS also had earlier printings when TLG used – in my view – a better logo, and when I later realized that C&C wasn’t a medieval samurai game I took a closer look). Now, with the 3rd printing, the cover font has been freshened up and looks like what you would expect from a modern RPG game. Hopefully, the D&D 5E and Pathfinder crowd will take a look at it if they see it at their FLGS (unfortunately, the white coloring of the book’s name on the spine almost blends in with the art that is spread across the front and back covers, so most people glancing at the CKG on a bookshelf at their FLGS may have difficulty reading the name of the book!

Any gamers that have played AD&D will recognize the echo of the 1E DMG figure on the cover. So while this latest printing presents a freshened up and much needed font style change to move C&C into the new decade, it still retains an echo of the past. Which make sense, since C&C is in my view the best RPG for mixing and mashing together the best of pre-2000 old school D&D and post-2000 D&D. You can make C&C a rules-lite D&D 5E, or AD&D with a consistent rule system (these are the primary reasons why I switched to C&C).

The Castles & Crusades Castle Keepers Guide (3rd printing) kickstarter rewards.

Castle Keepers Guide – what’s in it?
The CKG has 19 chapters covering subjects such as expanding characters, magic, expanding equipment, NPCs, world building, cities, dungeons, air and water adventures, equipment wastage, land as treasure, going to war, monsters, treasure, combat, skill packages, and character death. I won’t go through all the chapters, but just hit a few highlights.

Classes & Races
The expanding characters chapter used to include optional material to take C&C characters from levels 14-24 (the PHB takes characters to level 13), but this material has been moved to the soon-to-be published 8th printing of the PHB. The material that remains covers optional attributes, racial interactions, and expanding playable races. Although this is obviously usable for C&C, it is also very useful for anyone running a D&D-type game.

Magic
The magic chapter provides prices of material components, buying, selling, and trading magic, how one can interpret magic in your game, summoning options, and alternate spellcasting systems. It is useful across-the-board for any C&C or D&D game master.

New interior maps by Alyssa Faden.

City Types
The CKG has always had a section on castles, cities, towns, villages, etc. with stats and information on how they operate and how they are structured. But in this printing they brought in Alyssa Faden, and she provided an incredible amount of map art, some of which are full-page spreads to illustrate the varieties of castles, towns, and cities one can create or adventure in. The text was useful in itself before, but this art really brings it alive and truly enhances the chapter. The art is informative, but can also serve as inspiration, and if you are at a loss for a town or city floorplan, just grab one of the illustrations from the book!

New interior art on numerous types of wagons.

Expanded Equipment
The expanded equipment chapter is filled with information for GMs that want information on rations, animal care, room and board, provisions, etc. This is useful for any fantasy RPG game system. But once again, art has been added for this printing. There is a two-page spread on ships and a two page spread on different types of wagons. The art is top quality and I love the realism it presents.

New art showing different landscape types.

Dungeons
The Dungeons chapter previously had text to describe the different cave landscapes and how they look. But this chapter has also received a fresh lick of paint with illustrations to assist the reader. The quality of this chapter has also been raised.

SIEGE Engine, Skills, and Feats
I’ve mostly just touched on the chapters that received new art to illustrate and enhance the text. But the other chapters on treasure, combat, and world building are filled with gems to enhance your game. C&C is one of the most rules-flexible RPGs out there and the SIEGE Engine is what drives the game (the SIEGE Engine is a d20-style rule system that binds the C&C game together). For those running C&C, the chapter on the SIEGE Engine provides new ways to use the system to meet the needs of the Castle Keeper. Although C&C core rules don’t use formalized skills or feats, if you want that in your game, the Skill Packages chapter provides the means to do so (and if you use an RPG that already has skills and feats, this chapter can expand your options or provide a new way to look at them).

Supplemental Kickstarter Material
The CKG Kickstarter came with some additional books to those who pledged at a higher level. The Core Index is a useful quick reference for the CKG, PHB, and Monster books. The CKG Tables booklet is 60 pages of the most useful tables from the CKG. This will probably get used by me every game session – this was badly needed! I’ve said that the CKG is one of the best GM guides out there, but sometimes trying to find what you need in a 370 page book is difficult to do in the middle of a battle during a game session. This booklet makes that a lot easier by putting things right at my fingertips. Adtherpe’s Natural Materials covers herbalism, alchemy, creature harvesting, and mixing compounds. At just 20 pages it is brief and compact, but it appears to me on a first perusal to be highly useful!

Final Thoughts
It was frustrating that this book arrived 11 months beyond its original delivery date of September, 2020. Keep in mind the textual content was largely unchanged from the 2nd printing, the book mostly just had some new art added. Unfortunately, delivering late Kickstarters is something TLG is known for. Still, I must say that this is a really beautiful book, and both it and the user-friendly supplemental material that came with it will get a lot of use from me. The book gives Castle Keepers guidance and suggestions on almost anything they might face in their game, and for non-C&C GMs out there, this is a very useful addition to your game as well. This book come highly recommended!

Castles & Crusades Diary: Barrowmaze, Session 75

Summary:
The Army of the Light takes on a Barrowmaze Witch with her ghast and ghoul followers and then take on a series of bone golems.

PC’s:
Arthur, Human Oathsworn 7 of Celestian
Jasper, Dwarf Cleric 2/Fighter 2 of Dumathoin Deepdelver
Balthazar, Elf (Mongrelman) Wizard 6 of Arcanus
Cyron
, Human Cleric 6 of Charon
Gnoosh, Gnome Rogue 6/Illusionist 6 of Baravar Cloakshadow
Martin, Human Rogue 6 of Bacchus
Astrid, Human Skald 3 of Hel
Calista, Elf Thief 1 of Loki
Kiaria, Human Seeker 5 of Bast
Gorgat, Half-Orc Barbarian 5 of Haephestus
Chonk, Half-Orc Barbarian 4/Cleric 4 of The Morrigan
Kyra, Elf Cleric 6 of Sehanine Moonbow

NPC:
Dhekeon “the Disgraced,” fallen skeletal paladin of St. Justus (seeking redemption)

Game Diary:
Last session we lost Cobalt, a founding member of the Army of the Light, as well as our newest member, a wizard named Ahmeya. There was a procession in the streets of Ironguard Motte in his memory and of his accomplishments. Some of this was out of respect for him and part was clearly propaganda by the church of the Saints as they do not want the Norse and Celtic faiths getting anymore inroads into the town. The church then took Cobalt’s body and buried it under the temple floor of the church annex dedicated to St. Agathos.

Several members of the group leveled up last session and they took time off to acquire new level-up abilities (e.g. Advantages from the Castle Keepers Guide, which are effectively feats, as well as researching other things such as Rosaline the druid working out a way to re-purpose an Amber Golem they picked up from the Barrowmaze many sessions ago). With some fresh faces in the adventuring party they headed back to the Barrowmaze to try and find the tomb of a barbarian ruler named Thar and and a crypt of the elements, both areas that may predate the Barrowmaze.

They arrived where they left off last session at the library to Nergal (which they had largely destroyed). There they discovered that bricks had been placed on either side of the entrance to the archway with moist footprints of barefoot ghouls and ghasts. It seems the undead were preparing to brick up and re-seal the library. The adventurers knocked the bricks over and headed down the passageway following the foot prints. They arrived at a door where a cackling voice of a witch from behind the door invited them to enter. Balthazar opened the door to peek in and throw in a fireball. Opening the door he saw a room with a boiling cauldron (with the arm of Ahmeya floating in it), 8 ghouls, 5 ghasts, and the witch (named Grizelda) stood upside down on the ceiling looking down upon him. She breathed forth a blast of fire. The damage on the wizard was substantial. He responded by hurling a fireball into the room and then stepped back so others could heal him.

The fireball destroyed all the ghouls and one ghast. Still, Grizelda and four ghasts remained. The smell and stench of the undead caused Arthur to vomit violently, taking him out of the combat. Gnoosh cast head fog on Grizelda, but even blinded she managed to throw down a darkness spell on the doorway due to her familiarity with the room and corridor. Her darkness only lasted a brief second, however, since others in the party had magic weapons and spells of light which counteracted her darkness.

The ghasts rushed forth to the doorway and reached out with their…ghastly…hands to strike the adventurers. Kyra failed her save and was paralyzed by a touch. But with 12 PC’s and one NPC against four ghasts and a blind witch, the battle was clearly in favor of the Army of the Light. Fellow clerics removed Kyra’s paralysis and she used a magical circlet to blast Grizelda with fire. Fate was decided. Moments later the undead were dead as was Grizelda. Finding parts of Ahmeya in Grizelda’s cauldron was disturbing, but finding her treasure of gold was not!

The group found a secret door in her chamber leading south. Passing through it they could tell they were now in a much older part of the Barrowmaze. They knew they were moving toward the crypts where Tharn and the Elemental chambers were located.

Further down they passed two bricked up walls. Several members could sense undead and by doing so they were able to establish that one of the bricked up walls would lead to undead more powerful than the ghasts and ghouls they had fought. They chose to move on, thinking they were safe with a few feet of bricked up walls protecting them.

Bone Golem art by spawn69101 on Imgur

Moving further south they came upon a room with a large square room with a 30 foot high ceiling. The room was slightly pyramidal with a stone sarcophagus at the top where there were two dead adventurers lying next to it. The militaristically trained members discovered that they had been killed by scimitar and mace attacks from four armed creatures. Having fought a four armed bone golem in a previous adventure they thought this might be the cause of the deaths here. They began to investigate the room to determine where they might be lurking. They discovered that of the four pillars that were lending support in the room, two had hidden panels where 7 foot tall guardians could be lurking. Three of the strong members ascended the pyramid structure and pushed off the stone sarcophagus cover. This activated the bone golems from the pillars. The group had guessed this would happen and were prepared. The spellcasters did have to rethink their strategies when they were reminded that these golems were immune to spells. Nonetheless, Balthazar cast mirror image a few times to distract the golems, and there were still many mighty warriors with magical weapons who could attack. It was the warrior-types that pushed forth and attacked the golems. The golems had four attacks, but the 7 mirror images took many of the blows that could’ve hit the adventurers. The Army of the Light swung back with their blades and bludgeoning weapons. The bone golems had a lot of hit points but 12 adventurers and Dhekeon cut them down. Within the sarcophagus they found a bag with thousands of gold pieces in gems.

It was now time for the session to end. Next week they will continue their journey into this oldest part of the Barrowmaze.

Castles & Crusades Diary: Barrowmaze, Session 74

Summary:
A tragic session: Cobalt, a paladin that was a founding member of the Army of the Light and who has been in this campaign for 2.5 years (ever since Session 1), fell in combat. He had held off wraiths and a spectre (avoiding their level drain) but was taken down by two Necrolyte’s of Nergal blasting him with lightning bolts. A new 1st level wizard in her first adventure also died from shocking grasp. The campaign has been shaken up by this loss, and yet it has also opened up entirely new possible plotlines!

PC’s:
Cobalt, Human Paladin 6, of St. Agathos
Arthur, Human Oathsworn 6 of Celestian
Balthazar, Elf (Mongrelman) Wizard 6 of Arcanus
Ahmeya
, Elf Wizard 1 (Wild Mage) of Maximillian
Rolando, Hobbit Rogue 3/Pacer 2 of Brandobaris Fleetfoot
Martin, Human Rogue 6 of Bacchus
Rosaline, Half-Elf (Elf lineage) Druid 6 of The Daghda
Zen, Human Monk 5 of St. Agathos
Kiaria, Human Seeker 5 of Bast
Gorgat, Half-Orc Barbarian 5 of Haephestus

NPC:
Dhekeon “the Disgraced,” fallen skeletal paladin of St. Justus (seeking redemption)
Inaros, Human Cleric of Osiris

edited art excerpt of a paladin in prayer by LadyJotaro (DeviantArt)

Game Diary:
This session was a big deal for the character of Cobalt. He had last been in an adventure months before, where a Chosen of Nergal named Rendar Serouc turned him insane just before he died. The clerics in Ironguard Motte brought in priests and healers from the Crusader Kingdoms in the west to work their divine magic on him, and with their time, energy, and faith they brought him out of his catatonic state, and he healed in the temple, slowly regaining his mental faculties in daily prayer and meditation. One day, however, his weapon, a Saint’s Mace (artifact) which he had found in loot early on in his adventuring career, and which had the strong will to slay evil, spoke to him. It said that he needed to leave the temple and return to the Barrowmaze and destroy the evil within. Moreover, it gave him a quest: do more than half the damage on an evil leader (e.g. the leader of the Orcus Cult, or the leader of the Church of Nergal) and it would turn into his holy avenger when he reached his next stage of development (i.e. 7th level). Cobalt was energized! If this worked out his weapon, which was already an artifact, would further expand into a holy avenger, this would be a weapon beyond the imagination!

The other members of the Army of the Light had developed their own plans while Cobalt had been resting these last few months in the temple, the druid (Rosaline) and barbarian (Gorgat) were interested in finding the tomb of a barbarian named Thar that had predated the creation of the Barrowmaze. The group was ready to go, and that was when Cobalt entered their headquarters, returned from his months of silent prayer in the temple to join them. The paladin with the Saint’s Mace that could strike down hordes of undead with a single strike was back!

The group had been provided information from a sage regarding where the tomb of Thar might be, as well as a series of chambers dedicated to the four elements (something characters like Rosaline were also interested in). To get there, however, they would have to pass through areas that were most likely going to have undead.

They initially returned to a large chamber where they had met a gargoyle master several adventures back and finished exploring chambers they had left previously ignored. The treasure within these crypts numbered in thousands of gold pieces, but breaking the seal on these stone doors and sliding them away also unleashed wraiths and a spectre! These are always challenging undead, for these particular incorporeal undead that were encountered allowed a Constitution save to avoid losing a level. All three attacked and hit Cobalt, but he fortunately passed his saves and only briefly glimpsed his life experiences being pulled from him before he was able to summon the fortitude to push away the negative energy. The power of Cobalt and the Saint’s Mace stood strong against this chaos.

The party moved on and found a bricked up wall that led to a shrine of Demeter. The statue within wept, and those that caught the falling tears were healed of their wounds. Further emboldened, they proceeded to the next area.

Image of the Library Crypt of Nergal from Barrowmaze Complete by Greg Gillespie

The Army of the Light next arrived at a bricked up wall facing east. Breaking down this wall the sages in the party discovered the dark language of necromancy on the entry and discovered this was the secret library of Nergal. A large amount of their dark knowledge had been sealed and protected within. Cobalt stood at the entrance and heard whispering voices beckoning him to come in. His detect evil told him there were evil entities waiting for him. Cobalt entered into the library from the west door. Heading in ten feet, the library broke off in a T-section to the north and south with narrow 5 foot wide corridors continuing east from the N-S hall. These narrow corridors were filled with bookshelves going back 30 feet lit by ever-burning candles.

There was no time to reflect on this, for from the north and south two imposing crypt knights of Nergal attacked Cobalt! Their natural fear aura failed to do anything to the paladin due to his immunity to fear and strength of faith. His Saint’s Mace struck one down in a single blow. His friends came in to assist him, but the the crypt knight fear aura sent Rosaline and Zen rushing out through the west doorway and Martin and Rolando had to trip them and then other characters tried to tie them up, for the last thing they needed was screaming adventurers running down the corridors bringing wandering undead to attack them from behind!

Those adventurers not trying to prevent the fleeing feared members came and fired arrows and magic missiles at the remaining crypt knight and it went down. At this point Cobalt saw two half-undead/half-living Necrolytes of Nergal, one peaked out from the furthest north library corridor, and the other from the furthest south corridor. They both launched magic missiles and then darted behind the wall and down the corridor of books to remain out of his sight. They were clearly powerful magic-users since there were four magic missiles from each Necrolyte that hit Cobalt. He took the damage and headed north to take on that particular one.

Turning right at the top of the corridor the immortal magic-using guardian of the library was waiting for him. The church of Nergal had been trying to kill Cobalt for years (in game time and in real time!), and although the encounter with Rendar Serouc (a Chosen of Nergal) had made him insane, Cobalt had recovered and was clearly back to his old ways of slaying undead with every strike. The Necrolyte knew that extreme action had to be taken. Within the narrow confines of the corridor it launched a lightning bolt. It knew that this would most likely destroy many of the books in that area, but the paladin had been ruining their plans for years. The electrical blast hit Cobalt squarely and he failed his save, since he had neglected to heal himself from his previous attacks he was already down a lot of hit points, and the lightning bolt killed him!

It was at this point the player looked more closely at his character sheet and realized that from a special ability Cobalt had acquired from the C&C Mystical Companions book (which allowed him to summon a spirit to enter his armor and spiritually enhance it) that Cobalt had 65% magic resistance! (or SR13 in C&C terms on a d20). I won’t let my monsters or PC’s reroll dice or retcon stuff from mistakes we have made in previous rounds of combat, but since we were still technically on the lightning bolt round I let him roll his d20 SR roll, and he only had to roll 13 or under to ignore the electrical damage. He failed the roll! Cobalt was still dead!

There was shock all around. One player pleaded that surely there was something that could still be done. They looked at their Deck of Dirty Trick cards (players randomly pull three from the deck every game session to avoid catastrophes like this), but none of the cards were applicable to this situation. I thought about it and decided his Saint’s Mace artifact would intervene one last time, and it brought him to -6hp (in my C&C game, 0hp means you limp, crawl, and gasp for help, from -1 to -6 you are unconscious for hours, and from -7 you lose 1hp per round and die at -10). Of course, there has to be repercussions for what the Saint’s Mace did in preserving his life, and the characters noticed that as Cobalt lie on the ground at death’s door, that the mace rolled from his hands. In part this was because of the spell’s blast of magic energy projecting Cobalt against the west all and falling to the ground, and in part due to the mace rejecting Cobalt. It no longer accepted him as it’s wielder. Cobalt, in its mind had failed too many times and was no longer worthy of wielding it. But at least Cobalt was barely alive at -6 and just needed to get first aid and then a cure spell to return.

We now had to get back to combat, Ahmeya, a young wizard and student of Balthazar on her first adventure with the Army of the Light, headed south to attack the Necrolyte down there, while Arthur and Balthazar headed north to take on the one that had struck down Cobalt. Balthazar turned the northern corridor to attack the Necrolyte but it was nowhere to be seen. Balthazar is a no-nonsense guy, assumed he was invisible, and launched a special Barrowmaze spell he had learned called Ool’s Broiling Exhalation, which effectively produces a burning hands spell but from the caster’s mouth. The flames shot down the narrow corridor igniting whatever books remained from the lightning bolt. The spell normally would not quite have killed the Necrolyte, but the spell happens to do additional damage against undead, and after I rolled a %die to determine whether this creature was phasing as undead or not (50-50 chance) I discovered it was phasing as undead at that moment and it ended up getting burned up by the spell. Balthazar had killed it!

While this was happening Ahmeya turned to look down the south corridor and also couldn’t see the Necrolyte. She was briefly puzzled, but was then surprised as it emerged within arms reach from invisibility with electrical energy moving about its hand and used shocking grasp on her. She was a 1st level wizard with 5 hit points, it did three times that in damage – Ahmeya died!

By this point those in the north west corridor that had killed the northern Necrolyte returned to the main N-S hall and other members of the Army of the Light had also entered from the broken in wall to the west, and it was just as they were all along the hall that the southern Necrolyte emerged from its southern corridor (where it had just killed Ahmeya) and sent a lightning bolt up the corridor encompassing nearly everyone! Everyone managed to survive that blast, except for Cobalt, who was lying unmoving in its path at -6 hp. This lightning bolt hit him for 25 points of damage, ensuring that he now was truly dead.

The remaining members of the group killed the remaining Necrolyte and they discovered roughly 20,000 gold pieces worth of manuals and tomes of ancient necromantic knowledge in the surviving parts of the libray, as well as magical tomes that would provide enhancements for several characters (they found manuals of bodily health and martial skillfulness). At that point the session was at an end and the group said they were heading back to Ironguard Motte. The group wanted to grab the Saint’s Mace but it would only allow a lawful good person to wield it, and there were no lawful good people in this party except for Inaros, the NPC cleric of Osiris. He was truly happy to pick up such a mighty weapon!

Next week the players have said there will have to be a several week time jump to allow them to regain their Wisdom from the undead encounters (every undead encounter in the Barrowmaze effects a character’s wisdom and they need to rest a week for every undead encounter to regain the wisdom that is drained from them), plus mourn Cobalt, and presumably to read those magical manuals they found. But when this is over they will be heading back to the Barrowmaze to find the tomb of Thar and the elemental chambers.

A major character who had played such an important role in this group for 2.5 years and whose identity (whether he was present or not) helped shaped the identity of the group died in this adventure. This is tragic and impactful. I will miss Cobalt, I was developing some major campaign plots around him when he would reach 9th level and could own or build castles and get a duchy under his command. The person who played Cobalt will also miss him (obviously). But characters die (players lose roughly 3-4 every year in this deadly campaign). Next week we begin a new chapter in this campaign, for even though several plotlines have been thrown into disarray with Cobalt’s death, it has also opened things up in a very expansive way. There are new leadership roles to take on in the group. There may be new power maneuvering within Ironguard Motte with Cobalt gone. And this may effect the group’s relationship with the powers-that-be in Ironguard Motte since as I mentioned above, there are very few lawful good worshipers of the Crusader Kingdom Saints (which is one of the pantheons in my world, and which have a strong presence in Ironguard Motte). The campaign may have just been turned upside down at a point when everyone thought they could begin to predict the future path of the campaign!

Castles & Crusades Diary: Dragonclaw Barony, Session 28

Summary:
The adventurers saw things they had never seen before: A zombie farmer’s family with undead ox plowing a field, undead chickens laying eggs, undead cows supplying milk, unliving seeds being planted in fields to grow undead plants. And our beloved Jabari (monk/cleric) gets level drained fighting a wraith.

PC’s:
Jabari Rajul-min Alshrq, Human Monk 1/Cleric 0 (class and a half) of Horus (Egyptian)
Magnus, Gnome Druid 2 of Belenus (Celt)
Endur “the Thick”, Human Fighter 2 of Gobniu (Celt)
Ser Sanwyche Gryffyn, Human Paladin of St. Agathos (Crusader States)
Gwar, Half-Orc Barbarian of Crom (Celt/Norse)

NPC:
Thorthic Norain, Dwarven Barbarian/Cleric of Thor (Norse)

Game Session Diary:
The group woke up in their secure warehouse in the abandoned village of Somber Grove. They had spent several days (and game sessions) exploring this town cursed by a witch and overrun by the swamp and strange creatures. They were now ready to head to the Zombraire estate. Somber Grove was once run by the Wrenwald family of magic-users until the head of the family upset a witch and she cursed the town. Now, decades later it is known as a haunted town and people largely stay away. But in a town once run by wizards, there is a lot of potential mysterious items to be found. They had already found many exotic and unknown – or long forgotten – spells on scrolls. Now they headed to the estate of the ruling Wrenwald family.

It was a 1 hour journey north through three miles of roads. As they traveled on this cloudy day the plants changed from living, to dead, to undead. The adventurers were disturbed by what they saw: grass going to seed, passing through an area of dead grass, and then arriving at an area of grass going to seed again, but with an eerie coloration and strange unliving properties that altered the nearby flora (by altering trees covered not with bark, but something resembling skin).

zombie mule, artist unknown

Then they arrived at the Zombraire estate. It was a complex with 15 foot high walls. At the entry point they saw a cart in a dirt circle with three dead men (cloth merchants) and a dead mule. When Jabari approached to take a peek inside the estate, they sprung to life and attacked. The mule shed its skin upon standing up and became a skeleton and it and the three cloth merchant skeletons attacked. Jabari used his powerful fists and the other members shattered the skeleton’s bones destroying them.

zombie farmer, art by Lauria Ahonen (ArtStation)

Looking inside the complex they found a field being plowed by a zombie ox with two zombie children playing/riding on top of it. A zombie male led the ox in its plowing, and four zombie females were planting undead seeds in the soil to grow an undead crop. The undead farming family had heard the commotion of the battle at the entrance and they all were making their way shuffling toward the adventurers. The clerical members attempted to turn the zombies and the oxen and two children turned to flee, but these zombies were not coordinated and one child fell off the oxen, broke its leg, and the huge oxen stepped on it and snapped it off. But the child felt no pain and crawled away as fast as it could with its brother(?) helping it flee. These were slow zombies and the group were able to pick them off with Endur firing an arrow deep into one zombie and Gwar’s two-handed sword slicing at others.

The noise of this battle alerted animals in a nearby animal pen – there were 30 chickens upset by what they saw! They began to cluck angrily and dart forward. Gwar sliced three away to their death with one swing, and Magnus cast entangle and undead vegetation (which the chickens had been feeding on) came to life and held them in place. They were even easier to kill after that. Looking into the chicken coop they realized these undead chickens were laying eggs, and the eggs were being collected. What strange place was this that undead animals were eating undead vegetation and reproducing?

Next they found a well with a bucket next to it filled with sludge. The paladin and his detection abilities told him that if this sludge were drunk, that they would be irreparably harmed (i.e. they would lose a level). A corpse was lying next to the well with a rusty sword in it, but Endur, a weaponsmith of Goibniu, knew that this was deceptive and that there was something special about this weapon, so they kept it.

Immediately next to the well was a stone barn with a thatched roof. Opening the double doors they found packed earth floor and five stalls. In the southern corner was the undead seed the zombie farmers had been planting. To the north was a pile of refuse with an amazingly shining pitchfork in it. Endur knew this was worth examining and went forward and pulled it out. Luckily he pulled it out with enough care (i.e. successful Dex save) for with the pulling out of the pitchfork a series of rot grubs fell at his feet (but luckily not on him!).

There was then a mooing sound and they realized that there were three skeletal cows and two zombie cows in the five stalls. The zombie cows were clearly being used for milking and it appeared that at some point once they were used for their meat they became skeletal cows! The strangeness of this estate continued to grow! But there was no time to ponder that for the three skeletal cows burst through their enclosure and butted their heads into Jabari, nearly killing him from their powerful blows. Another turn attempt was made and they ran back into their stalls. The group left the barn and closed the double doors, vowing to burn the place down once they were ready to leave.

It was now time to enter the manor house. They opened the main double doors to a 50 foot long Great Hall with a grand fireplace at the end. Along the length were two mead tables and benches, with 15 skeletons splayed about the area. Jabari expected them to all rise up as he entered and prepared for that, however, upon entering they remained dead and unmoving, but instead he heard a howl and cackle, and a wraith shot out from the fireplace and attacked him. It was a successful hit. The monk in C&C has Constitution as prime so one could expect him to have greater success in making his save – and he did! He briefly caught a glimpse of his knowledge as a monk and his adventuring life getting pulled from him, but he successfully resisted. Thorthic decided this was his time to turn the undead away with the power that Thor provided him. He succeeded and it fled back into the fireplace. Sir Sanwyche and Thorthic then surrounded the fireplace entrance with holy water to hopefully prevent its return. They also closed the two doors that opened into the Great Hall. However, there were three holes in the thatched roof and minutes later it came darting in from above, and after briefly surveying the situation attacked Jabari again. This time he failed his Con save and now many of his training and the memories of becoming a monk and an adventurer were pulled from him and he lost a level. Since he was a 1st level character, in my campaign that meant he became a 0-level character, going from his normal max d12 hit die to 4 hp, and losing his Con prime attribute bestowed upon him with that being his main class.

Gwar had pulled out his shadow short sword that could drain strength from its victim and hit the wraith, it failed its save and lost some of its strength. Thorthic stepped forward and did a mighty blow with his hammer, and the power of Thor obliterated the wraith sending it into the afterlife.

That is where we had to end the session. In two weeks they will be exploring the remainder of the manor and hopefully find the answers to the questions: is the witch here? Are any Wrenewalds remaining? Is there anymore great wizard riches to be found?

Castles & Crusades Diary: Barrowmaze, Session 73

Summary:
The Army of the Light ascends several thousand feet into the Moon Peaks, battles three Stuhać (demonic Slavic creatures), a Likhoradka (a female Slavic spirit that spreads disease), and discovers her secret hidden cottage filled with exotic and poisonous plants.

PC’s:
Arthur, Human Oathsworn 6 of Celestian
Balthazar, Elf (Mongrelman) Wizard 6 of Arcanus
Gimli
 “Rot Face”, Dwarf Berserker 6 of Odin
Gnoosh, Gnome Rogue 6/Illusionist 5 of Baravar Cloakshadow
Martin, Human Rogue 6 of Bacchus
Rosaline, Half-Elf (Elf lineage) Druid 6 of The Daghda
Zen, Human Monk 5 of St. Agathos
Kiaria, Human Seeker 5 of Bast
Belden, Gnome Bard 6 of Aengus

NPC:
Conwrick Pimkin, Hobbit Ranger of Brandobaris Fleetfoot

Game Diary:
When half the players couldn’t play last week we did a small side adventure with different characters they had (The Army of the Light has 38 characters in it, so there are always characters for my players to use!). This week we had 5 of our regular 6 players and we continued where we left off on a…cliffhanger…two weeks ago at the edge of a cliff with a 600 foot drop and another 600 foot vertical ascent.

The Rosaline (the druid) had spend several days carefully casting plant growth to build up strong roots of the plants that hung in places within the rock, she then transformed into her spider totem shape and joined those that ascended the cliff. Belden acquired the ability to turn into an owl after gaining favor with the god Cernunnos during a trip to the Otherworld. Gnoosh, Martin, and Conwrick had slippers of spider climbing. And Balthazar cast multiple levitate spells on those that didn’t have spider climbing abilities or capabilities to shape change. There were a few checks for the climbers, and except for one failed check by Gnoosh as he reached the top (his luck stone saved him from falling to his death!), everyone got up fine.

Looking at what lie in front of them at the top, they saw 30 feet of thorns and brambles that reached as high as 5 feet in height. Beyond that there was a cottage covered with natural vegetation that camouflaged it almost completely. And beyond that there was a serious of gardens with many exotic plants and a cliff where exotic plants called cliff plives and fire flowers grew (they had come for the cliff plives, which, if used by the right person could harden leather armor garments into nearly steel-like strength.

But there was movement in the brambles. Three very well hidden humanoids dwelled within. Gnoosh’s hat of telepathy revealed to him their surface thoughts – defend their witch mistress and avenge the death of their air-dragon-elemental that had been killed by the group in the first part of this adventure. Belden pulled out his piccolo and began to fascinate them, which at his skill level functioned as a charm person. They emerged from the brambles and were frightening with their beef-jerky-like skin complexion, sharp claws, and demonic features. He persuasively convinced them that the group did not kill the elemental creature and that they were invited to see the witch. The Stuhać cleared a path through the brambles and led the way to their witch mistress.

The likhoradka witch – named Beoria – was not fooled by the bard’s performance. She was 7 feet tall, slender, and wore clothes that allowed her to blend into the surroundings. Unbeknownst to them, she was lying in wait. As a likhoradka, Beoria had the ability to transform into a spirit dive into a victim’s body (Wisdom save to resist) and possess them. She had been observing them and saw her perfect victim – Gnoosh! Gnoosh had the lowest wisdom in the group, and she knew that if she could take him over, she could wreak havoc on them (Gnoosh was also a rogue 6/illusionist 5 with a lot of magic, making him ideal for that reason as well, she was a very old woman who had learned a great deal in how to assess a person’s strengths and weaknesses).

The frightening appearance of the Likhoradka

Her careful observations and plan had to be altered on the spot, however, when one of the spellcasters said they were going to cast sanctuary on the Gnoosh. She had to act fast and before she wanted! She lept out from behind an arched trellis covered in vines (her spindly arms and straggly hair looked a lot like the plant material surrounding her). She did a vicious claw attack which made its mark. It was time for initiative and unfortunately for me, enough players rolled higher. The characters swarmed in and killed the spirit in three blows (although the disease that emanated from her did afflict five characters lowering their Strength and Constitution by 1 each, which took several days for the healers to remove). The players were relieved, but now the Stuhać saw the truth and the enchantment on them ended as they attacked the group. This took a few rounds to complete, for they also had vicious claw attacks, which, like the likhoradka, could’ve dropped some characters with one blow if I would’ve rolled well on damage. But fortune shined on them and the demonic creatures were slain.

Stuhać art by YoshiWoo at Deviantart

The group now had time to explore this isolated and hidden witch grove and cottage. They found exotic cliff plives, fire flowers (which offer fire resistance to dwarves that work their forges for hours on end) and ipple (which makes a tasty dessert and baked good, but can also extend life when used by the properly skilled herbalist and alchemist) [By the way, these items can be found in Harold the Halflings Herbology Handbook published by Deep Dungeon Games]. They also found materials like lamassu feathers, a unicorn horn, sea monster oil, etc, which could make a variety of potions and healing concoctions, as well as black lotus flowers which could make dust of death! Whether healers or assassins, everyone found something they could make use of!

Rosaline realized that this isolated place – once purged of its evil presence, for they discovered from Beoria’s diaries and notebooks that she had been living up here for over a century – could make a good druid grove. Additionally, Kiaria – who had acquired a Griffon egg many adventures back – thought this would be ideal to raise her griffon when it hatched and raise it to be her companion. So this adventure not only provided a large amount of materials for potions and elixirs, it would also serve as the safe and secure location of a druid and seeker as they get ever closer to reaching the level to establish their own druid grove and hidden outpost.

This was a fun adventure which has laid the groundwork for future character development, and for the players, it will only be when they read this game diary that they will discover how close they got to having Gnoosh possessed by the Slavic spirit and doing…well, now we’ll never know what havoc she could’ve done! Next week they return to the Barrowmaze and seek out the burial of a once great barbarian name Thar, whose burial predates the creation of the Barrowmaze. What ancient elements and magic will they discover?

Castles & Crusades Diary: Barrowmaze, Session 72

Summary:
Side adventure where members of the Army of the Light help a farmer cleanse Slavic spirits and demons from under his granary/storage silo, discover a portal to the lower realms and return with a treasure hoard!

PC’s:
Kyra, Elf Cleric 6 of Sehanine Moonbow
Skuld, Elf Sorceress (Seiðkona) 4 of Odin
Orgren, Dwarf Fighter 3 of Sif
Amelia, Half-Elf (Human lineage) Bard 2/Illusionist 1 of Apollo
Oswyn, Human Cleric 1 of St. Jasper
Edward, Human Bard 3 of St. Cecilia
Aristoteles, Human Ranger 1 of Uller
Cyron, Human Cleric 6 of Charon
Magni, Dwarf Fighter 2 of Barundar Battleaxe
Aturash, Half-Orc Berserker 3 of Odin
Sagira, Human Cleric 1 of Horus

Game Diary:
Half the players couldn’t make the session, so for the three players that could make, two made new characters they had previously outlined and with a few veteran members of the Army of the Light I came up with a one session side adventure to put them through their paces.

As so many adventures begin, this began in a tavern in Ironguard Motte. While relaxing in a tavern the door opened and a panicked farmer accompanied by a town guard entered seeking help with a problem he had. There were apparently strange fiery spirits under the granary and storage silo at his farm just a few minutes north of the town. The group of veterans and enthusiastic newcomers to the Army of the Light seeking to prove their worth in the group headed to the farm. Once there, the farmer opened the double doors that led down stairs into the storage area under his granary and storage silo. When they arrived they entered an area 30 feet in diameter with three tunnels leading off in different directions. Detect magic and detect evil told the spellcasters that there was the presence of neutral evil, lawful evil, and chaotic evil down each of the tunnels.

Ovinnik

As they were working out what to do three 4 foot all hairy beings wearing leather vests with symbols of Czernobog (a Slavic god of destruction and misery) emerged from the far left of the three tunnels. Although they were carrying pitchforks and were apparently doing laboring work in the underground area, the veteran members of the group had met demon beasts of Czernobog several months prior and weren’t going to wait for a conversation when they saw them raise their palms and small flames emerged from them, the adventurers immediately launched spells and attacks at them. I was looking forward to introducing my players to some interesting foes and their abilities, these little folk were whittled down fast. They whistled and from the far right tunnel they heard the howling of hounds and saw the flickering lights of flame – hell hounds were approaching!

One spellcaster cast patch of frost and this made the entire area in front of the three tunnels slick with ice as well as spreading a damaging chill to all those that entered the area. The five hell hounds entered as protection from evil was cast to protect the adventurers huddled together. The hell hounds took the chill damage, the warriors lunged forward with their weapons as well as firing their bows. The hellhounds were getting bloodied, and since these summoned creatures couldn’t enter the protected area, they breathed forth their fiery pellets. The veterans took the damage, but the newcomers were not used to such brutal, hellish, attacks, and three went down to zero and negative hit points, on the verge of dying. Fortunately, there were several clerics in the party, Kyra had an owl that could administer cure spells by touch, plus there was a Deck of Dirty Tricks card available that allowed two actions to take place in a single round. So with one cleric casting two healing spells in one round, the animal companion administering a heal, everyone was back up again! (although a couple of the cure spells only cured 1 or 2 hit points). Under the protection from evil aura, the group pushed the hell hounds back onto the patch of frost and the hell hounds froze over.

Drelb art by Peter Bradley for Castles & Crusades Classic Monsters & Treasure

The group, wiping their brow in relief for having survived the hellhounds that nearly killed the three newest members of the Army of the Light, were taken a back by a shadowy figure that emerged from the center tunnel, a being from the negative material realm, yet not seeming to be undead. Again, players decided this was no time for hesitation and Kyra launched a blast of fire from a circlet she had on her head. It was a powerful blast indeed – something I was not prepared for – and with a failed saving throw this potentially quite powerful and devastating monster went up in smoke.

It appeared this was the lead monster of the group (with the Ovinnik being workers and hell hounds being guards). They went down the central tunnel and found a portal to the fiery realm below (Hell? Hel? Muspelheim?). They analyzed it with their spells and knowledge and could sense the other side was going to be very hot, yet they could also make out distorted images through the red, orange, and yellow colors that there was treasure behind it. With the shadow creature gone, the portal was slowly shrinking, but they determined that it would remain open for more than 24 hours, so they took this time to return to Ironguard Motte, rest the night, heal up, learn new spells, and come back with reinforcements.

Death Dog from D&D 5E Monster Manual

So, the group returned 24 hours later to the portal to the fiery realms underneath the farmers grain silo having gone from 6 to 11 members. After they all got endure elements cast on themselves they entered the portal. Before them lay a grayish wasteland with steam rising everywhere. They couldn’t see more than 100 yards, for after that the steam made everything waver in heat waves. However, although seemingly empty in most directions, 100 yards in front of them, at the limits of their vision, their lie much treasure…with 7 double headed death dogs with hell hound capabilities! The dogs howled and charged at the obvious intruders to their realm! The group had a couple of rounds for ranged attacks, hoping to whittle them down before they could breath their double headed fiery breath at them! Other members threw caltrops to their sides since they could tell these dogs were moving to flank them on all sides to take them down. Their plan worked, the seven 2-headed hell hounds were down to just a few after their charge, and they were suitably dealt with by sword and axe.

This, then, left the treasure. They approached, and counted the loot – 13,000gp, magical halberd a phylactery of faithfulness, and a cursed stone that reduces Oswyn’s movement in half (he tried to throw it a way, but it always returns to him somehow). Still, that is a lot of treasure, did it all belong to the shadowy spirit (Drelb), or something else? Skuld, the sorceress, got a hint of an answer when the group was passing through the portal back to their realm and she heard a sinister chuckle in her mind’s ear. Had they now gained the attention of some strange devilish entity from the fiery realm below?…

Castles & Crusades Diary: Dragonclaw Barony, Session 27

Summary:
Exploring three stables in the former wizard village of Somber Grove, the adventurers encounter giant cockroaches, they cause a building to collapse on top of them, and then arrive at wizard/illusionist training barracks to encounter crawling claws!

PC’s:
Jabari Rajul-min Alshrq, Human Monk 1/Cleric 0 (class and a half) of Horus (Egyptian)
Magnus, Gnome Druid 2 of Belenus (Celt)
Eliam, Half-Elf (Elven lineage) Cleric 3/Wizard 2 of Lugh (Celt)
Homonoea, Human Dragonslayer 1/Giant Killer 0 (class-and-a-half) of Athena (Greek)
Endur “the Thick”, Human Fighter 2 of Gobniu (Celt)
Ser Sanwyche Gryffyn, Human Paladin of St. Agathos (Crusader States)
Gwar, Half-Orc Barbarian of Crom (Celt/Norse)

NPC:
Thorthic Norain, Dwarven Barbarian/Cleric of Thor (Norse)

Adventure Recap Thus Far:
Somber Grove was once a village run by a family of wizards known as the Wrenwalds, decades ago the wizard ruler mocked a witch who then cursed the village. Not long after the nearby swamp came to overtake portions of the village with both plants and animals beginning to take on aspects of the undead.

The group arrived several days ago, exploring the old inn, taking on a harpy and her giant frog minions, and then making an old warehouse their base of operations. The following day they (i.e. the next game session) explored two greenhouses where exotic magical plants had run wild, and where a bunch of giant snails had taken up residence.

Game Session Diary:
Waking up to a new day in Somber Grove, the group opened the doors to the vast warehouse where they have set up camp to see a sunny August day with strong winds (regular 20mph with gusts of 40mph) coming in from Dragon Lake to the west and blowing east. After ascending the guard tower in the center of town to survey the area, Eliam noticed an old stable in the north west quadrant of the town that once held flying creatures and he noticed a giant cockroach moving about inside. The adventurers chose to head north west to explore the stables and deal with a foe they had already seen. As they approached the building they picked up the smell of decay. Opening the large barn-like doors, they were confronted with a 2 foot long cockroach weighing about 40 pounds eating at a griffon that, although it had died decades ago, was for some reason decaying very slowly. There was also an upper level and a much larger cockroach lie in wait there.

art from The Basic Fantasy Field Guide

A single cockroach, even if giant, can be easy to pick off, and the group picked that first cockroach off with some ease. However, Magnus, using his gnome and druid senses could hear that an even larger cockroach above them was communicating in some way to nearby cockroaches. Gwar, Sir Sanwyche, and Endur entered to take on the larger monster within. Gwar ascended a 20 foot high ladder to get at the beast on the upper floor (which was half the size of the lower floor, leaving a vast open space where people on the lower level could look above), meanwhile the paladin and fighter took positions from below with their bows and prepared to launch arrows at it.

The cockroach above was much larger, being more than 6 feet in length and weighing hundreds of pounds. It also exuded a powerful scent filled with disease. Gwar stepped off the ladder onto the old wooden platform to attack and rolled a 1 – critical fail! The critical fail die said he crit himself! He was using a black shadow short sword that drains strength, so as his foot broke through a wooden floor board up to his crotch, the black sword cut into him, he failed his Con save and his Strength was reduced by 1 for the next 24 hours – this was a bad start! The paladin and fighter below launched their arrows at the beast, but many of their arrows flew wide of the mark.

The rest of the group was ready to come in and take care of this single monster, but its previous calls had been heard and within seconds cockroachs emerged en masse from the windows and foundations of the nearby buildings. Two attacked Thorthic, two gathered around Magnus, and Eliam, Homonoea, and Jabari had four surround them. It was mayhem from all directions! Although they went down easy enough from the melee weapon blows, more would swarm forth. Eliam slowed things down and gave people breathing space with a couple of sleep spells, but these bugs kept people busy.

Gwar decided to descend the ladder and draw the 6 foot cockroach down to the others and swiftly slid down the ladder with the beast leaping after him. At this point Sir Sanwyche plunged the sword he acquired from the tomb of the barbarian prince Thorin Zeuse into the ground and said the magical command word: a chasm 60 ft. long, 10 ft. wide and 10 ft. deep opened before him. It swallowed the massive cockroach and Gwar. It also spread out through the west side of the building and the decades-old neglected wooden building began to creak and sway from the crumbled foundation and the strong winds outside, and they all knew the building was now on the verge of collapse!

Since it had been raining recently and the village had been overrun by a swamp, water was pouring into the chasm, soaking the dirt walls and making it nearly unclimbable. The battle continued on the giant cockroach, its horrific smell now began to effect those that were fighting it. Eliam had cast jump on Homonea and she lept into the building and on top of the bug, but her, Magnus, and Jabari were now afflicted with powerful dysentery and they could tell that they were getting weaker and would lose strength later on.

After several rounds the 6 foot long bug finally died, but now the interior of the chasm was filled with 9 inches of water, the sides were nearly unclimbable, and the wall was seconds away from collapsing. Friends reaching in with helping hands and a still active jump spell helped most get out of the chasm and out of the building, but in the end, Endur got stuck between the collapsed west wall and the still standing north wall, and Magnus and Jabari jumped into the chasm to avoid getting crushed by the falling west wall. With part of the chasm reaching outside of the building to the outdoors, Jabari and Magnus could see some sunlight come into the chasm from the far west end, so crawled out to the open air from the other side. Although Endur had been pinned between two walls, he was strong and dexterous enough to get out of the building in safety.

A few heals later and they proceeded to explore the other two stables. They had also had cockroaches, but they all headed the call of their leader and attacked the group earlier, thus these buildings were empty of foes. Inside the group found some basic tools (pitch forks for hay, hammers, iron nails), along with some boxes filled with wizard/illusionist scrolls (remember, this was once a village of wizards, so these are belongings most of them carried with them if they would ever run out of normal spells, or for trade with other wizards).

After collecting more rare magical scrolls (my players always choose their spells at new levels from the Player’s Handbook, but the spells for these scrolls came from the Adventurer’s Backpack), it was time to head to the wizard barracks. Some of those buildings had been been weakened from a termite infestation and the cockroaches. This weakened the wooden structures. It also mean some of the arcane scrolls had been destroyed, for the termites had sought out the wood from the scroll paper and whatever exotic animal parts or fluids that had been part of the ink that was used was pursued by the cockroaches. However, in the process of devouring the scrolls the magic within had killed the termites and cockroaches.

That being said, one room did have a dead wizard (now a skeleton in wizard robes). As Eliam went to explore the personal scrolls of this corpse, the skeletal hands came to life and lept at him, clawing at Eliam’s body through his robes! Even though both claws only had an AC13 and 1 hp, Eliam and nearby friends had trouble hitting them, and he was being whittled down by the claw scratches! Eventually the group prevailed, but Eliam needed some healing.

The session time was coming to an end, and with several players covered in mud and diarrhea from the disease they were afflicted with, they were happy to find the old bath house, mostly intact. They used some cantrips to clean it out, filled the tubs with water, washed themselves clean, and then headed back to the warehouse to camp for the evening and replenish their spells for the next day (and the next game session in two weeks).

It was good to return to this game after a six week absence (we game every fortnight). I had to put this Discord game on hold for 6 weeks because I had broken my primary right arm in mid-June and had to wait a while until I could use it to some degree again. It felt good to be able to return to gaming! This is a four hour game, and after four hours my arm was aching and sore, so I knew I had reached my limit, but at least I was gaming again (my Tuesday in-home Barrowmaze game is easier to manage with a broken arm, since my players can operate and manipulate anything that needs doing and as a result there is less strain on my healing arm).