Castles & Crusades Diary: Barrowmaze, Session 78

Summary:
1. The Army of the Light kills a basilisk and brings a petrified friend back home.
2. An examination of the joys and deep challenges of trying to use the Castles & Crusades Mystical Companions book to expand player companion/pet/familiar options.

PC’s:
Balthazar, Elf (Mongrelman) Wizard 7 of Arcanus
Kyron
, Human Cleric 5 of Charon
Gnoosh, Gnome Rogue 7/Illusionist 6 of Baravar Cloakshadow
Martin, Human Rogue 7 of Bacchus
Astrid, Human Skald 3 of Hel
Noro, Human Warrior Priest 3 of Hyperion
Remi, Gnome Rogue 5/Illusionist 4 of Hermes
Tiberius, Human Paladin 2 of St. Ingrid
Jasper, Dwarf Fighter 3/Cleric 3 of Dumathoin
Arthur, Human Oathsworn 7 of Celestian

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

Game Diary:
Last session we ended on a cliffhanger as Balthazar was thrown into a room by a revolving door, met the gaze of a basilisk, failed his save, and turned to stone. This session began with careful planning, and then Arthur entered the basilisk room through the revolving door, but it got stuck when it struck the stone Balthazar. Arthur responded – while avoiding the gaze of the basilisk – to place his portable hole over the head Balthazar and then with a push his stone friend fell into it and Arthur could store him away.

During this time the other members of the group entered the room, and even when they took a -4 to hit it to avoid the creature’s gaze, they swiftly killed it. After looting its tomb, they wanted to get back to Ironguard Motte, count their treasure, and put Balthazar in storage/on display until they find a way to reverse his petrification. After more than two full sessions on this adventure, there was a lot of XP to distribute, and several characters leveled up. At this point the remainder of our game session turned to upgrading characters.

Castles & Crusades book Mystical Companions
This takes us to Mystical Companions. Have you ever wanted a special companion, pet, or familiar for your character that is unique to your character class? Well, then, this is probably the best book I’ve found to meet that need with all its imaginative options. Ever since my players have gotten a hold of this book there have been two things they have consistently said: “that is so cool!” and “what does that mean?”

There is an abundance of amazingly fresh ideas in this book, but they are sometimes cancelled out by all the page turning you have to do to find and cross-reference everything. Additionally, this book was previously a D&D 3E book called the Book of Familiars, and a substantial amount of 3E terminology remains within its covers and it is confusing a lot of my players who never played that edition (and for the few that do know 3E, they want to know how it applies to C&C). Using this book requires extra time to prepare and plan what companion your character wants to acquire, how they are going to do it, and what path they want that companion to take over their level advancement as it grows with the character. The problem is that with all the page-turning and leftover 3E terminology, references to 3E monsters that we are frequently told are to be found in the Monsters & Treasure book (but are not), this becomes a genuine headache and exercise in frustration. This may be the best companion book I’ve come across for an RPG, but it is also probably the most poorly executed.

Examples of the Good Parts:
The Variety of Options for Character Classes. An Illusionist, for example, can summon animistic spirits (classic familiars from myth and literature), automatons (non-sentient mechanical objects), fetish familiars (a physical receptacle that serves as a container for a spirit), and mercurial familiars (intelligent spirits that only want to satisfy their own desires). Each of these options takes up several pages with charts and details showing the paths a character can make. Multiple players could make the same choice and yet take them in very different directions. The options here are amazing!

And every single character class has an option available to it (well, not every character class, the knight, for example, is missing an entry in this book, but since this book began as a 3E product, and 3E didn’t have a knight class, they didn’t bother to add it to this book. That is a little annoying, but it is easy enough to just have the player use options from the paladin or fighter chapters, but as we will see, the little bit of extra work here and there that the player and GM have to do builds up over time).

The Problems:
Mixed Messages from the Rules. My players and I get different messages depending on what we are reading. One of the things I like about C&C is that there is a lot of openness to the system, there are not too many rules telling you how to do something, they leave a lot up to each GM and their players to creatively work things out. But in this case that doesn’t really work. That may be in part because of this book previous existence as a 3E book and 3E was a system that tried to have an answer for every question and instead usually gave you a question for every answer (that is why many of us got bogged down and lost in the details of the 3E rules-heavy system). I think there needed to be more paring down when this book was brought into C&C, and I don’t think that was done. There are 8 authors listed for this book. That might explain why the book has (i) so many unique approaches to companions, as well (ii) why the book is all over the place and sometimes lacks a consistent unity. An editor could’ve helped in this regard.

Editing. I mentioned the illusionist options above. The header for the illusionist chapter begins with “The Illusionist’s Familiar,” but a few pages later the header changes to “The Wizard’s Familiar” (the Wizard chapter follows the Illusionist chapter). Even though we are now all familiar with this glaring error, it still gets us when we are paging through the book to look something up and we can’t rely on the header to let us know where we are.

Then there are the references to creatures and beasts that don’t exist in C&C. Believe it or not bats don’t appear in the C&C Monsters & Treasure (M&T) or any other C&C book I’ve looked at. As you can imagine, bats are mentioned constantly as a companion that someone can procure, it is stated numerous times that “these creatures can be found in Monsters and Treasure” or in “Appendix A.” They appear in neither. I have a player who has a bat familiar, but I used the stats from the Adventures Dark and Deep Bestiary (which has bat entries for every kind of bat you could ever need).

Dire wolves. They are also referenced constantly as being in either Monsters & Treasure or Appendix A, but they are a 3E monster and don’t appear in M&T or Appendix A. Even though it is easy enough to just replace a dire wolf with a worg, or something similar that does appear in M&T, the names of creatures that don’t exist in C&C products, or are a reference to a different game system, should’ve been found in editing and removed or altered. These errors are obvious, and it shouldn’t be up to the GM and the players to wade through these unnecessary issues and do all this extra work themselves. The book should help you, not put-up roadblocks.

The problem might be that there are 6 editors listed for this book. This probably doesn’t help with the hit-and-miss editing. Troll Lord Games is notorious for its poor editing and that really stands out in this book. They really need to stop asking well-meaning and well-intentioned friends who will look over their books after work and on weekends and hire professional editors that are being paid to do specific editorial jobs (i.e., developmental editing, content editing, copy editing, and mechanical editing).

I do get enjoyment as a GM in grabbing monsters from any edition of D&D and throwing them in my game to keep my players on their toes. But this book is supposed to assist players in planning a cool companion for their specific C&C characters to grow with them over time. The information they need should be at their fingertips, or else the information should be easily accessible by their GM in other C&C products.

And yet every single game session when someone brings up a question about a companion option or a type of 3E phrasing that is used, we typically spend 20 minutes pouring through books trying to find the answer or the best way to make a ruling that is happy for everyone involved. And most frustratingly, when we do arrive at a ruling that satisfies those involved, another question usually appears the following week and we must go back to page turning and try to remember what we decided and why. There was one point in my game last night where everyone who had a copy of Mystical Companions (I think it was four players) had their copy opened and we had open debate as to what was meant by the phrasing and the monsters being referenced. Meanwhile, another player got up and grabbed my 1E Monster Manual to find more information that might help us in making a ruling, while I am trying to find other means to find the best C&C alternative for a dire wolf, since all the players involved had different interpretations in their mind based on their previous gaming experience. It was a muddled mess. We must’ve spent close to an hour wading through various issues related to the Mystical Companions book. When everyone at your game table from their late teens to their early 50s who have played everything from B/X to Pathfinder and 5E are unanimously and consistently from week to week confused by the contents and presentation of a book, it needs work.

I so badly want to continue using this book, but it needs to be fixed up, and since I can’t predict what my current or future players are going to choose and how they will want to progress with a companion (due to the variety of options), I say to myself I will just keep things on a case-by-case basis. Yet, I need to do something to clear up, clarify, and simplify this book. I have never owned an RPG book that has been so useful and overflowing with options for expanding the choices for my players and yet cause such a staggering headache trying to work through the editing errors, and references to things from the first version of the book that don’t exist in the current game that the book is supposedly made to support.

So, there you have it. I think this book has more options and ideas for expanding companions, pets, and familiars than any other I am aware of, and yet the references and terminology from other game systems, internal consistency, cross-referencing, and editing errors is going to wear you down.

Castles & Crusades Diary: Barrowmaze, Session 77

Summary:
Stunning adventure! One character is petrified by a basilisk. Two characters contract mummy rot. Players lose more than a dozen potions and holy water vials from a shatter spell. They collect 50,000+ gp in treasure. They have a unique encounter with a boy ghoul who doesn’t realize he is undead.

PC’s:
Balthazar, Elf (Mongrelman) Wizard 7 of Arcanus
Kyron
, Human Cleric 5 of Charon
Gnoosh, Gnome Rogue 7/Illusionist 6 of Baravar Cloakshadow
Martin, Human Rogue 7 of Bacchus
Astrid, Human Skald 3 of Hel
Noro, Human Warrior Priest 3 of Hyperion
Remi, Gnome Rogue 5/Illusionist 4 of Hermes
Tiberius, Human Paladin 2 of St. Ingrid
Jasper, Dwarf Fighter 3/Cleric 3 of Dumathoin
Arthur, Human Oathsworn 7 of Celestian

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

Game Diary:
In this session the highs and lows were were unrelenting. In the Barrowmaze players are very careful and sometimes may only manage to explore a half-dozen rooms, in this session they continued pushing forward, exploring 17 rooms. So many things happened that I simply can’t cover everything in this game diary, but I will try to hit the highlights.

In the previous session they had fought Barrow mummies and a gemstone golem, but they still had spells and abilities they could use so they plowed forward into new and undisturbed crypts. Several characters have abilities to detect treasure (Jasper, for example, can detect gold, courtesy of his dwarven god Dumathoin), and they used their natural abilities and magic items to seek this out. The pull of treasure was high! so they entered rooms where the floor gave way to a 20 foot deep pit with poisoned spikes at the bottom. Anther room had a brown pudding that ate away the padding underneath their metal armor, reducing its effectiveness (i.e., its AC goes down by one for each round the pudding can eat away its interior. so as the bruises built up and the armor was reduced in effectiveness, they managed to pull in thousands of gold pieces worth of gems.

Moving to a new section of the dungeon, they found a room with a sitting clay statue with rubies in its eyes. The players awoke what they suspected was an enchanted creature, and it was – a clay golem! Balthazar chose to cast shatter, hoping it would cause the creature to crumble, but it was immune, and everyone in the room had to make saving throws for their potions, flask, and elixirs. There were more than a dozen failed saves among the characters, with Tiberius saddened to see all 10 of his holy water vials shatter and soak through his backpack!

After defeating the golem, they entered a burial chamber for a mother, father, and son of the Ironguard family (the Ironguards are currently ruling the Duchy of Aerik, where the Barrowmaze is located). The bodies of the mother and father remained resting in peace in their sarcophagi, but the Army of the Light found the boy, Parnel Ironguard, standing next to his sarcophagus, risen as a ghoul. However, he was not yet aware he was undead and was struggling to understand why his skin had changed color and the room looked like a crypt. He began asking the PCs questions in his state of confusion as his mortal mind was fading and being slowly taken over with ghoulish hunger. The more time he was able to smell the PCs fresh flesh his ghoulish hunger began to grow. Characters that could detect evil could sense the hunger for flesh was growing, he was succumbing to it, and his moral compass was shifting. Kyron commanded undead and told him to “go back to sleep.” Parnel did so and crawled back into his sarcophagus and pulled the top back over him. The group realized they needed to bring the boy to peace, so they partially re-opened the sarcophagus and Kyron commanded him to drink some water (which happened to be holy water), the boy did so and then screamed as the holy water began to eat away at him from the inside. He now fully turned evil, but directly drinking holy water had weakened him considerably, and the Army of the Light laid the boy to rest swiftly. The group collected Ironguard signet rings and Ironguard circlets with the family crest on them. Some of the roguish PCs are planning a careful and secretive take over of Ironguard Motte, and these items may make it easier for them!

Next they entered a series of rooms dedicated to Zuul, a chaotic entity that united the force of Chaos with the four elements. One large chamber showed Zuul standing with the four elements of earth, wind, fire, and water pouring into him. Some characters were able to detect undead and from their familiarity with the Barrowmaze they picked up the presence of two mummies beyond some doors. Carefully, they prepared spells and tactics. They focused a lot on elemental spells, thinking these might work best on the mummies. Unfortunately, they guessed incorrectly! After making some sounds to lure the mummies out, they laid out a path of frost to fill the entire chamber. The mummies walked onto it and instead of slowing their movement and giving them damage, the mummies praised the PCs for their respect and use of the elements! They then charged toward the door where the group awaited.

Arthur and Martin were struck by the mummies and they failed their saves, causing a -2 reduction to their charisma scores as well as a weakening of their healing capabilities (healing was now impossible in some cases or took 10 times longer in other instances). These two sickly looking friends spurred on the group. Dhekeon, who was capable of walking on walls because of a magical silver death mask he wore, attacked the mummies with his two-handed sword. Martin, seeking revenge, made a backstab attack and decapitated one, and Arthur took his revenge by making another killing blow. Fortunately, this group had some clerics, and after casting cure disease and making spell caster checks to try and overcome the strength of the mummy curses, succeeded, removing the affliction on the two characters.

The Army of the light was now worn down. Two players were recovering from mummy rot, several others had their armor reduced from a pudding (although mending spells managed to temporarily overcome the problems). But the characters knew there were still a couple of rooms they wanted to explore before they would head back to Ironguard Motte to rest and heal.

Basilisk art by Jacob Atienza (Deviantart)

They found a door which required a scarab to be inserted into a socket in the door and rotated to open. They found the scarab “key” around the neck of one of the mummies. Balthazar used it. The door, which they thought was connected on hinges (like most door are!), but the door in fact operated on a pivot located in the center point of the door. The door immediately spun from this center point and smacking and pushing Balthazar into the next room. As he was propelled into the dark room, the torch light from his companions illuminated a strange lizard-type creature. Its eyes glowed. He failed his constitution save, and just as the door finished its 180 degree turn and Balthazar disappeared from sight in the room on the other side, the other members of the group saw his flesh harden and turn into gray stone…

They began to plot how they could get into the room, kill the basilisk, and retrieve Balthazar. But they had several challenges. One, the scarab key was now on the other side of the door with the now petrified Balthazar, and secondly, our game session was running over its allotted time and players needed to head home. There was excitement to try and solve this, so we did go a bit over our time, but the session ended on a cliffhanger.

So, for next week we are now all wondering – will the Army of the Light defeat the basilisk and retrieve Balthazar?

Castles & Crusades Diary: Barrowmaze, Session 76

Summary:
The Army of the Light battle a Gemstone Golem, Sandling, a half-dozen Barrow Mummies that paralyzed a player’s legs in ice, fought an Ochre Jelly and an Amber Golem as they progress further into the oldest portions of the Barrowmaze!

PC’s:
Balthazar, Elf (Mongrelman) Wizard 7 of Arcanus
Kyron
, Human Cleric 5 of Charon
Gnoosh, Gnome Rogue 7/Illusionist 6 of Baravar Cloakshadow
Martin, Human Rogue 7 of Bacchus
Astrid, Human Skald 3 of Hel
Calista, Elf Thief 1 of Loki
Noro, Human Warrior Priest 3 of Hyperion
Kiaria, Human Seeker 6 of Bast
Gorgat, Half-Orc Barbarian 6 of Haephestus
Remi, Gnome Rogue 5/Illusionist 4 of Hermes
Tiberius, Human Paladin 2 of St. Ingrid
Chonk, Half-Orc Barbarian 4/Cleric 4 of The Morrigan
Kyra, Elf Cleric 6 of Sehanine Moonbow
Sophia, Human Paladin 1 of St. Solania

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

Game Diary:
Fresh off the success of their battles with bone golems in the previous session they broke down several bricked up walls in a corridor knowing that when they find walls that have been built up to block entry there is usually treasure, and these players know that I use the 1gp=1xp rule in my games. Additionally, in my game when you level up you can train to get new abilities (e.g. learn a new language, learn a new profession, attempt to raise an attribute, or take an advantage from the Castle Keepers Guide), but these new abilities require taking time off and spending money to acquire the ability (the time required is their new level x 2 in weeks, and the cost is 10% of the difference in xp they need from the beginning of their current level to their next level in gold pieces. So down went the wall bricked up walls!

The adventurers came to two doorways facing north and south. Entering the north door they found a pile of gemstones in a five foot diameter bowl and the body of a clearly accomplished gemcutter (based on the tools that were lying next to him). A dagger was tossed into the bowl of gems, causing them all to assemble together to create a giant gemstone golem (they had encountered one previously). They knew it was immune to magic spells, but magic weapons helped them out and by letting the fighter types take control of the combat it eventually crumbled into a pile of expensive gem treasure.

Entering the south room they saw a pile of sand. A spare dagger was thrown into it as well and it rose up into a sandling (a type of sand elemental). Its death was swift, for an arrow was shot toward it and a natural 20 was rolled. When a player rolls a critical hit, I hand them the critical hit die made by New Comet Games. They rolled “instant kill” and down it went!

art by totmoartsstudio2 DeviantArt

Breaking down another bricked up wall they arrived at north and south doors. Several characters could detect undead and they sensed a half-dozen powerful undead, three behind the north door and three behind the south. Gnoosh has a hat of telepathy and could detect sleeping, dream-like thoughts from the intelligent undead in the crypts behind both doors. The rogues tried to pick the locks but found themselves struggling and it took several attempts by the different rogues before they could succeed. This awoke the undead (Gnoosh could sense the dreamy thoughts had changed into “attack the intruders!” The Army of the Light tried to prepare by having Chonk set up his magical tower shield and Balthazar was preparing a special Barrowmaze spell that allowed him to breath fire (Ool’s Broiling Exhalation), but the undead were prepared as well, so instead of allowing surprise, we all rolled initiative and the undead won! The doors opened and three barrow mummies emerged to strike. Unlike traditional mummies that can give someone mummy rot, the curse of these mummies it to freeze a persons limbs for several hours. Gorgat was swarmed over by the multiple clawed hands of the mummies, and one-by-one both his legs froze to the ground and he was unmoving and paralyzed. His friends cast sanctuary and invisibility to undead on him to protect him from certain death as they continued the attack. Magic missiles and normal missiles were fired at the mummies. Balthazar also got to cast Ool’s Broiling Exhalation and caused the bandages on the mummies to burn off and their flesh burned from his magical fire. The first three went down, but Kyra had to use up some spell slots casting several remove curse spells to free Gorgat from the frozen paralysis.

Gnoosh’s hat of telepathy told him the undead behind the other door were now awake from the sound of battle and waiting. Suspecting that these were more barrow mummies they were better prepared and when the door opened they unleashed their barrage of spells and attacks. Dhekeon, their fallen paladin friend with a powerful two-handed sword, as well as possessing the power of spider climb because of a silver death mask found in the Barrowmaze, ran along the walls and attacked the barrow mummies from a non-traditional attack angle, slicing at them with his mighty blows. They couldn’t hold up to the attacks. Over 9,000 gold pieces of treasure was collected from these creatures and the gemstone golem. But the spellcasters were out of spells and they chose to return to Ironguard Motte.

Several people advanced levels and because the players chose to pursue the level-up training options I offer in my campaigns they were swapped out for some other characters. We still had just over an hour left in the session, so they headed back to the Barrowmaze to continue down their path. I rolled for random encounters, got nothing, so they successfully got back to where they left off.

They next moved to a north-south corridor with two archways which opened to the east and west, in each there were a series of small 10 foot x 10 foot crypts, some had doors, others had tattered curtains covering them. The Army of the Light managed to explore most of the six rooms through the west archway, which included fighting an amber golem and an ochre jelly. But the struggle was worth it for the over 6,000 gp additional treasure they found (platinum rhytons).

The session had now run out of time and they still had a couple of crypts left to explore, which includes investigating two partially decayed corpses, one of whom had a clearly unique magical scroll in his hand. The players are also aware from the map fragment they possess that they might be just one doorway away from entering ancient tombs that existed prior to the construction of the Barrowmaze. We will see what will happen next week!

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: 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: Barrowmaze, Session 71

Summary:
The Army of the Light encounter disorienting Slavic faerie creatures at the base of a mountain, ascend a narrow mountain path using druid plant growth to strengthen the vegetation and footing for the climb, and at the base of vertical cliffs during a storm take on a Slavic elemental dragon-being.

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:
The Army of the Light took a break from the Barrowmaze and traveled to the Moon Peaks in search of Cliff Plives, exotic vegetation that can turn leather – if properly treated – into the hardness of steel.

artwork by Jesper Ejsing

Their daylong journey from Irongaurd Motte to the Moon Peaks was uneventful…until night began to fall. Conwrick, the ranger, began setting up camp in the light rain that was falling under the setting sun. That was when the group heard a beautiful song drifting through the trees! Several people were entranced by the sound and headed toward it. Under cover of the setting sun and tree branches, the lone harpy was difficult to target, but those that weren’t entranced by her song darted off to the side and headed behind to try and avoid the branches providing cover so that they could flank her. A mighty blow struck her on a branch 10 feet up in the air, and when she hit the ground her neck snapped on a rock from the fall.

The group returned to camp to rest for the climb up the cliffs the following day to find the elusive cliff plives, but those on first watch saw between the branches of trees and briefly blocking out the stars the swooping down of two flying creatures – gargoyles! The group had had enough of them from the previous three adventures and once they woke everyone up the two were dispatched rather quickly, still, gargoyles have a lot of attacks and healing was needed.

art by Alexander Petrov

The next morning the group was guided by Conwrick to the base of the mountain. A narrow dirt and stone trail 3-5 feet wide crisscrossed up the mountain for 600 feet before they would reach a 600 foot straight up cliff to the next landing. As they were about to begin roping themselves together four faery creatures came out of the woods towards them. Two of them were dainty little feminine faeries 3 feet tall and smelling of flowers, the other two, who were males, looked like sinister corpses. They all apparently exuded an aura which disoriented and confused those near them, and several characters began aimlessly wandering in different directions. The two male faeries (known as Bluds to those versed in Slavic folklore) jumped on the backs of Balthazar and Zen and began rummaging through their backpacks. One blud grabbed a scroll from Balthazar, and the other grabbed from Zen’s backpack the severed animated Scandinavian troll head whose mouth functioned as a bag of holding. While this happened the two blud females smiled approvingly and spoke about the payment owed to from those who trespass into their territory.

The troll head was too heavy for the one blud and it fell on top of him and only his splayed legs stuck out underneath it as it hit the ground, the other blud handed the scroll to the female and she preparing to dart off into the woods at frightening faery speed. The blud disorientation power can be quite powerful (one can easily imagine why very few have ever made it to the cliff plives, for most who have gotten this close simply wander off for hours or days and either never make it, or are picked off by predators). The Army of Light, however, is made of different stuff, and enough avoided the faeries auras and smacked the little wee folk down and retrieved their items before they could escape.

The group could now proceed up the crisscrossing path. They had to ascend six narrow (3-5 foot wide) paths that varied between 30-60 degrees in inclination. Conwrick led the way by himself (his hobbit and ranger abilities ensured he could do this by without assistance), and the other nine characters tied themselves together into three groups of three (to catch one another if someone slipped and fell). There were several falls, but the other two characters always managed to pull the clumsy person back up. However, at roughly the halfway point Gimlie, Balthazar, and Arthur had an accident and there was about to be a devastating fall, but Arthur used a car from the Deck of Dirty Tricks to teleport to a previous location which was simply five feet away from where he slipped, and Balthazar cast levitate on himself and Gimli and they ascended to the top of the crisscrossing path where Conwrick was waiting for them smoking his ivory pipe.

Once at the top, Martin took out his Cyclops head acquired from the previous adventure that allowed him to see things 100x closer. He gazed up and could see a strange whirling vortex at the top of the 600 foot high cliff. Belden’s legend lore told him it was an Azdacha, an elemental dragon-being. It could produce devastating surges of cyclonic winds hurling all those in its path in multiple directions – very dangerous when you are 600 feet above the nearest ledge and more than 1,200 feet from the closest solid and steady ground!

Rosaline cast plant growth spells to strength the vegetation on the ledge and partway up the cliff to assist in future climbs upward. Rosaline was aware of the weather (cloudy and wet from rain), and used an ability that her god The Daghda gives her to predict the weather a week in advance. Taking into account the weather over the next couple of days to discover when it would rain, be cloudy, etc., the group chose to camp on the edge of the narrow trail and proceed up the following day. This also gave her the time to prepare more plant growth spells so that she could strengthen the vegetation on the cliffs to make it even easier to climb.

The next day she called lightning and with a special glass globe she possessed (with storm clouds swirling inside) she was able to enhance it. The already cloudy skies turned grayer, lightning began to flash and thunder rebounded off the cliffs. She was levitated up the cliff-face to get within range and with the guidance of Martin’s Cyclops head to pinpoint where the Azdacha was, she sent down strikes of lightning upon it! It only took two strikes and it was destroyed!

And that was where we left that session! I have to say that I was not expecting the Azdacha to go down so easily! But the creativity of the player who used the druid, as well as the players who made maximal use of their character’s class abilities and magic items was impressive (several characters have slippers of spider climbing, which should come in useful in the next session when they ascend the cliff and get ever closer to the cliff plives). All is going very well for them, but they have heard rumors that a witch or hag lives at the higher elevation, secluded, and tending to her exotic herb garden secure in her private domain. But they will all learn about that next week!

Castles & Crusades Diary: Barrowmaze, Session 70

Summary:

The Army of the Light encounters 20 animated severed heads that speak to them and bestow an array of magical gifts – and several curses – to the party members!

PC’s:
Llewelyn, Elf Cleric 6/Wizard 5 of Sehanine Moonbow
Elgiva, Elf
Cleric 1/Wizard 1/Archer 1 of Sehanine Moonbow
Kyra, 
Elf Cleric 6 of Sehanine Moonbow
Remi, 
Gnome Harlequin (Rogue 5/Illusionist 2) of Hermes
Gorgat, 
Half-Orc Barbarian 5 of Haephestus
Roulf, 
Half-Orc Dragonslayer 5 of Crom
Edward, 
Human Bard 2 of St. Cecilia
Rosaline, 
Half Elf (Elfin Heritage) Druid 6 of The Daghda
Zen, 
Human Monk 5 of St. Agathos
Balthazar,
 Elf (Mongrelman) Wizard 6 of Arcanus
Wright Dawnbreaker, 
Human Paladin 1 of St. Luther

Amelia, Half-Elf (human lineage) Bard 2/Illusionist 1 of Apollo
Skuld, Elf Sorceress 4 of Odin
Gnoosh, Gnome Rogue 6/Illusionist 5 of Baravar Cloakshadow
Martin, Human Rogue 6 of Bacchus
Gimli “Rot Face”, Dwarf Berserker 6 of Odin
Zen, Human Monk 5 of St. Agathos

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

Game Diary:
After several sessions dealing with gargoyles, the group was ready to leave the Barrowmaze, head back to Ironguard Motte and level up so that they could adventure some more. Luckily for them they discovered a room with a secret door leading to a barrow mound where 30 severed heads. Ten had deteriorated, but twenty were still “functional.” What does that mean? It means that when spellcasters cast detect thoughts, detect magic, and detect evil, that many of these heads glowed to various degrees. When Balthazar cast detect thoughts and walked up and down the room where the heads were resting on shelves, they all spoke to him, sometimes mentally and verbally.

Artwork from Barrowmaze Complete.

offered the power of charming Balthazar’s enemies, the cyclops head allowed someone to see far beyond any natural range, the minotaur ensured that a person would never be lost, the witch would curse a foe, etc. Balthazar went along the shelf pushing the heads into his bag of holding! Some were quite skeptical and shook their heads with how dangerous this might be, but eventually others decided they wanted a head for themself.

Artwork from Barrowmaze Complete.

Once back at their headquarters in Ironguard Motte the wizards cast identify on the heads and then began to decide who wanted which head. They are described below, and with an important caveat regarding the heads provided afterward.

Balthazar took a wizard head that would detect magic, a homunculus head that would comprehend languages, and a witch head that would curse people. He also took the head of a woman who could only be described as a nagging wife! She bad mouthed him, ridiculed him, put him down, made him aware of how worthless he was. He tried to get rid of the head but discovered that he is now cursed and that if he gets rid of the head it returns to remind him how lazy and useless he is!

Roulf took the minotaur head that allowed him to never get lost and a zombie head which cursed him with a rotting disease! He immediately began to smell and disgusting fluids began to dribble out from pustules and through his pores. Much like Gimli experienced last year when he was afflicted with a rotting curse, this will have quite the effect on him!

Rosaline took the head of a large Scandinavia troll that would open its large mouth and offer to hold things of importance in it – its mouth functioned as a bag of holding! It was also quite friendly and talkative!

Zen received the head of a dwarf, which gave him deepvision as well as the head of a blind man, which bestowed clairvoyance.

Skuld took the head of a thief, this allowed her to detect traps.

Martin got the head of a huge cyclops, which allowed him to see things vast distances away and make them 100x closer, he thought it would be very useful to mount this head in an area that would allow him to survey the surrounding lands. He also grabbed a head of a tavern drunk, which would spew forth a stinking cloud.

Llewelyn became the owner of an elf head that provided divination.

Gorgat took a mummified head that could cause fear.

Gnoosh received the head of a marionette that could make use of ventriloquism.

Amelia snatched the head of the succubus which could charm person.

Wright took a paladin head which, after several days of lecturing him on what it takes to become a worthwhile paladin, bestowed him with two points to his charisma score, increasing it to 20 and elevating his leadership and influence.

I pointed out above that there were a few important caveats regarding these heads:
1) They only have a limited number of “charges,” so the wizards in the party will need to recharge them with magic when they become powerful enough to do so.
2) Most of these powers only work if the character has the head with them, which does complicate matters. Examples: place the cyclops head on the top of a tower in a mountain range and he could see things for you for many dozens of miles. The blind man allows you to use clairvoyance for any place you’ve previously been, so that could be used from his home. But in the case of heads like the mummy head that fears, the succubus that charms person, the wizard head that detects magic, and the marionette head that can use ventriloquism, will only work when it is in your presence, so either you cart a severed head around everywhere, or else you use it as a form of home defense.

Castles & Crusades Diary: Barrowmaze, Session 69

Summary:

The showdown with the Barrowmaze Gargloyles, a bottomless pit, treasure, and artifact.

PC’s:
Llewelyn, Elf Cleric 6/Wizard 5 of Sehanine Moonbow
Gorgat, Half-Orc Barbarian 5 of Haephestus
Edward, Human Bard 2 of St. Cecilia
Rosaline, Half Elf (Elfin Heritage) Druid 6 of The Daghda
Zen, Human Monk 5 of St. Agathos
Balthazar, Elf (Mongrelman) Wizard 6 of Arcanus
Wright Dawnbreaker, Human Paladin 1 of St. Luther

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

Gargoyle art from Dungeons & Dragons 5E Monster Manual

Preliminary statement:
Before I get to this diary, I should explain why there is such a delay from the previous blog post. The reason is that not long after our previous game session I had a great fall and broke my right arm. The result of that break meant that I spent several days in hospital with my arm in a splint and then eventually had surgery. I then spent the following week dealing with the post operation pain and the adjustment resulting from the surgery. Since I’m right-handed, I have been spending a substantial amount of time adjusting to using my left hand, which doesn’t work well for typing, mouse use, and, well, pretty much everything! (when I fell I landed hard on my arms and knees, so they are all bruised as well). When you include the pain medication I was taking, everything was a bit of a haze for awhile and required adjustment. For this diary entry I am voicing it into Word using their Dictate function and then copying and pasting it into WordPress when I am finished. I must say this is an interesting way of doing things and will take some adjusting (although I suspect once I finally figure out how to do this I’ll be able to use my right arm again!).

Game Diary:
When we left off last time the group had arrived at two double doors where they knew the gargoyle throne room was located. The group prepared to enter knowing that there was going to be the gargoyle leader Zygstral and a good number of gargoyles under his command. The battle was going to be furious! Just as the players were about to prep their spellcaster’s spells they heard a noise behind them. There was a door behind them facing north, and the door began to open. Looking inside they saw several humans, a dwarf and a hobbit beaten up, bruised, bloodied, and in loincloths and nothing else. It was clear they had been taken by the gargoyles, shackled up, kept mostly unfed and beat up for at least a week. They were malnourished and in bad shape. Yet they had somehow managed to break free of their shackles and while the two humans, dwarf and hobbit were wrestling with their gargoyle captor, the bearded and older male – clearly a wizard – had opened the door, saw the adventurers, and asked for their help. The players jumped into action swarming into the room and rather effortlessly killed the lone gargoyle. The wizard said his name was Wendyl and was most gracious to the characters. He promised to help the group if they could heal him and his companions up. Rosaline gave them all goodberries, this gave them the nourishment that they needed from the last week and some marginal hit points. The clerics then stepped in and healed most of them up to where they needed to be. By this point this group of adventurers went to the back of their room, picked up their belongings (which included weapons, armor, and a spelt component pouch for the wizard), and then looked at the adventures and said “let’s finish these gargoyles off!”

The Army of the Light, entering this adventure with nine members and two NPC’s, now acquired five more in support, making them more confident. Although they were also a bit cautious for Wendyl reached inside his component pouch, pulled out and rubbed a piece of charcoal in anticipation for something, and the wizards in the Army of the Light knew that Wendyl was prepping himself to cast fireball! With this new expanded Army of the Light, they opened the double doors.

They looked south into room before them, it was 30 feet wide and 60 feet long. Within, they saw Zygstral on the far southern end hovering above a throne. To his left and right were two gargoyle spellcasters, in front of the two spellcasters two 4 armed gargoyles, and in front of them a wall of eight normal gargoyles. Llewelyn immediately cast obscuring mist. This gave the group a place to go in and out of and not get targeted by spellcasters or ranged attacks. This has been a tactic the group has used before, and they have become comfortable with it. With this tactical choice setup, the warriors entered the mist and prepared themselves. Dhekeon and was the first to charge forward, summoning his undead fear aura which he has only used once before (as far as the group is aware), the effect of his fear put the eight gargoyles up front into a pattern of shaking cowardice rendering them ineffective in combat. With the normal gargoyles now largely out of action the lower-level members of the group could go and take care of them one by one with greater confidence, meanwhile the higher-level characters came in and the spellcaster started launching acid arrows and magic missiles from their hands. They soon discovered however that Zygstral had some form of protective globe around him which absorbed all the magic. Belthazar knew something had to be done and cast dispel magic on the sphere, it worked! The globe was dispelled! Dhekeon and at this point went forth in the combat to fight a forearm gargoyle but it tore off one of his arms with just one arm he managed to get it into a grapple keeping it at Bay quite a feat from the undead fallen paladin seeking redemption. One of the spell casting gargoyles now cast I haste spell on Zygstral troll he rose into the air his wings beating more quickly and his arms moving about with greater speed. The group knew that a normal gargoyle was going to do at least four attacks around with haste he was now going to get eight attacks in a round he shot down to Roulf an with eight attacks he only managed to get two attacks in successfully, I was very disappointed, although Roulf felt a great sense of relief! By this point Wendell and his group had emerged from the fog, he looked up above the fog to the 40-foot-high ceiling above and there saw Xxaxik and his four gargoyles (which had originally recruited the army of the light to assist in destroying his Zygstral so he could take command). But Wendell never agreed to this arrangement, he simply wanted all the gargoyles dead. It was at this point he handled his charcoal, voiced his wizardly chants, and launched a fireball directly towards the ceiling. All of Xxaxik’s gargoyle minions fell to the ground a pile of stone debris (along with parts of the ceiling). Xxaxik barely survived and managed some brief attacks but within a round he was also destroyed. Wendyl’s two human warriors, the dwarven warrior, and his Hobbit rogue, all went in and took care of the eight frightened gargoyle soldiers.

This battle was going much more successfully than I had ever envisioned! The high-level warriors and spellcasters could now focus exclusively on Zygstral, the two spellcasters, and the two four armed gargoyles (one of which was in a grapple with Dhekeon). The gargoyles remaining were now clearly outnumbered and outclassed. One of the gargoyle spellcasters cast haste on herself, but Balthazar was again ready with another dispel magic and soon she went down in battle.

Now it was time to seek out the treasure, for Xxaxik had made it clear there was treasure to be found. They found a secret door which led to a 10-foot passage to a dead end, but observant people discovered there was another secret door and they open that. Inside they found a room, roughly 40 by 20 feet, in the north corner they saw a chest, silver coffers a German crusted chalice and ivory statuettes. The first rank of the army of the light stepped into the room to collect the treasure which they so deservedly acquired. As they stepped forward the ground quaked and they had to make dexterity saving throws. All succeeded except for rosaline the druid, she like the ground beneath her, collapsed into a pit. One quick witted wizard cast feather fall on her descent slowed. Ralph threw a rope to her which she was able to grab. The group could now see the floor continuing to collapse into darkness, never hitting the bottom – it was a bottomless pit!

Once Roseline had been pulled back into the corridor the group saw they had a 5-foot ledge from their secret door a large empty space of nearly 20 by 40 foot and the treasure on a small strip oh ground now merely a shelf with a pit that went Into Darkness with no bottom. Llewelyn put on his slippers a spider climbing and climbed the walls of the room to the ledge where the treasure was on the other side, he had detect magic cast allowing him to assess the different items. Choosing carefully, he one by one took statuettes and coffers and a box back to the group. When he got to the final chest, however, it attacked him space- space it was a mimic! We rolled initiative between me and Llewelyn he managed to cast levitate on the map mimic, he was now prepared, if he had to, to push it into the open pit and then someone could cast dispel magic and it would fall forever. However, from the other side other group members fired their ranged weapons and the mimic was dispatched quite quickly. Again, I was surprised by the profound survivability of this group.

In the end when all was counted, they had thousands of gold pieces of new treasure coins and gems and jewelry. Kira who had the gauntlets of Palantas now had acquired their Rerebrace of Palantas. Another person acquired a powerful battle axe that Zygstral had possessed. And there were two very unique spellbooks, one of which had a displacer beast hide as its cover allowing it to change its appearance in a chameleon like fashion. So many amazing things happened in this adventure! With a bottomless pit, more than two dozen gargoyles with four to 8 attacks per round, spell casting gargoyles that could launch lightning bolts, this was a battle where I expected there to be at least a few casualties within the group, and yet this group plowed through this due to great creative and tactical thinking which led them to great success. A lot of experience points will be coming to these adventurers. Once I can return to using my arm and can write things down, we can resume gaming. For most of their exploration within the Barrowmaze they have explored many isolated areas, but they might have noticed they are now entering more clearly defined areas, with greater and more profound challenges. If this gargoyle section is any indication, however, this group could potentially plow through the new areas and rack up the experience points and magic items they need to make themselves even more invincible! Or will the dungeon get the better of them?