Castles & Crusades Diary: The End of The Dragonclaw Barony Campaign

A 19-month online campaign has come to an end. I reflect on my experiences running my first Discord game, my first time using a VTT, challenges and changes to my gaming style, campaign successes and failures, and what is happening next.

The Beginning.

In April of 2020, we were one month into the pandemic. All my face-to-face games at my house and at game stores were canceled. However, I still wanted to game. So I initially spent time on the TLG (Troll Lord Games) Discord servers trying to recruit players. I got some interest and we began using Google Hangouts (I had run some Hangouts games back in 2015 when I was running 5E with former philosophy students of mine from my time living in Scotland). But Hangouts was no longer the way to run things and everyone else was using many other platforms. After a few sessions, I had learned enough and the TLG folk were very welcoming and helpful and I had my own channels on their Discord.

I was still trying to run the games as if at a table, with the camera aimed at my GM screen, whiteboard beside me, and initiative cards were placed in a row on my GM screen. Time to change things up. So I began using Jamboard. This digital whiteboard allowed players to set up marching order, sleep order, and even set up some tactical positions when theatre of mind was lacking.

There was still room for improvement, though. I don’t like overcomplicated games and high-tech TTRPG gaming. I hate rolling digital dice. I am a tactile hands-on gamer. I want to roll dice by hand and turn the pages of books by hand. I fI have to spend more than 10 minutes prepping a VTT before a game, that is too much. But then I found Owlbear Rodeo. I loved it! I could upload a map and throw on some tokens 5 minutes before the game. It was exactly what I wanted. In the last year I think I’ve spent a total of a couple of hours using Owlbear Rodeo, I suspect most Roll20 or Fantasy Grounds people have spent that much time on their VTT in just one day, or one week. I saved all that time to do other things which, for me, were more productive and interesting. Owlbear Rodeo VTT was a huge step forward for my game.

The Campaign.

In April 2020 I thought the online games would only be for a few months, so for those first few fortnightly sessions, I had simple Basic Fantasy adventures and random encounters taken from a 5E encounter book I had supported on Kickstarter. By the autumn of 2020, the interest in the game had risen, I was developing a core crew of players, and it was clear this pandemic was not going to end soon and that online gaming was expanding and here to stay. I decided to run a full campaign. Unfortunately, I got a little over-ambitious and decided to run the AD&D 2nd edition box set Dragon Mountain! I had run it nearly 30 years before, but now I would run it in my world using C&C. But to get there I would need to set things up. I ran more Basic Fantasy adventures, but I laid the foundation too slowly and didn’t establish a direction to the campaign. I think my players enjoyed these still mostly small-scale adventures, but I should’ve dropped some future plot hooks earlier on to give them a hint of the big picture that was planned. That is a bit of a lost opportunity.

The World Continued to Change.

Of course, nothing stands still. The pandemic changed with new covid variants. My players from around the U.S., Canada, and Europe continued to respond to the pandemic. And we as individuals had to deal with new issues when it came to home life, jobs, illness, and injury. Now, more than 19 months later many of us were at different places in our home life, work-life, and gaming life. Players that had been firm members of the gaming group began to miss sessions and either drifted away or politely back out. We were all beginning to adjust to – not so much a post-covid world – but a world of covid which we were adjusting to and forging new paths in.

Final Thoughts.
I don’t think planning a 2-3 year online campaign is the best idea unless you have organized it much better from the very beginning with these expectations in place and with the right players in place. I should’ve aimed for a 3-6 month campaign (maybe 9 months) with achievable and noticeable goals at regular intervals.

I plan to take a break from running online games. There are times when players in my Barrowmaze group can’t physically show up to my house and game and they join my homegroup via Discord, but as for a full online game, I want to reassess where I am and where I want to go. I am hoping 2022 will allow more gaming at game stores again. I was running some great C&C games at my FLGS in 2019 and early 2020 and I would like to return to that. Although rather than run a campaign at a game store, I would mostly run one-off demo sessions perhaps once a month to introduce new players to C&C and give some of my home players the opportunity to show up and join a game not connected to one of our large scale campaigns. We will see what happens. At the moment I welcome the chance to take a break from running two campaigns and just focus on my Barrowmaze campaign and continue work on the campaign that will follow it next year when the Barrowmaze is completed and The Dungeons of Aufstrag campaign begin!

Plans that were begun, but never completed…

Castles & Crusades Diary: Dragonclaw Barony, Session 31

This game diary is going to focus almost exclusively on how I got things wrong in this game session. I will discuss: 1. Providing too many details. 2. Revealing too much. 3. Overuse of hirelings. 4. Railroading.

Jabari Rajul-min Alshrq, Human Monk 2/Cleric 1 (class and a half) of Horus 
Magnus, Gnome Druid 3 of Belenus 
Malcolm, Human Wizard 3/Bard 1 of Arcanus
Homonoea, Dragonslayer 2 of Athena
Ser Sanwyche, Human Paladin 3 of St. Agathos
Gwar, Half-Orc Barbarian 3 of Crom
Rok, Half-Orc Fighter 3 of Crom
Anne, Elf Rogue 3/Cleric 2 of Laeroth Mestarine

Thorthic Norain, Dwarven Barbarian/Cleric of Thor

Three “Axe for Hire” Dwarves of Dumathoin
Three “Wayfinder” Dwarves of Dumathoin

Game Session Diary:
In the adventure the players descended more than 200 feet down a nearly vertical shaft with the help of dwarven hirelings that made use of stalls as platforms to assist the PCs get to the bottom. They then had to pass through a large chamber where the lower portion was filled with deadly methane gas. They then entered an audience chamber where grimlocks were listening to their leader speak. Under the protection of a silence spell, characters moved in silently and destroyed the 3 leaders and their 30 followers with relative ease. Since grimlocks are blind and use sound and smell to navigate, the silence spell rendered them deaf and “blind” and an otherwise challenging battle was resolved quickly. So, what went wrong? I will reflect upon that below.

An opening in a cave with stalls. Screenshot from Abandoned and Forgotten Places.

GM Reflection on Errors Made
As today’s session came to an end and I was going to ask my players (as I always do) what they thought of it. I expected some minor issues to be brought up. I was aware that I had done too much talking, that I had spent too much time describing things in order to try and provide rich detail to immerse the players in the environment, and that some parts were a bit to railroad-y. What I didn’t realize was that all those were indeed issues, but several players thought they were a lot more worse than I thought. Let us go through what I got wrong and try and discover why (I hope that I can learn from this, and if this has happened to you as a GM, perhaps it can be a reminder to try and avoid these things).

1. Providing too many details and over using hirelings
I have been watching a lot of mining exploration videos on YouTube (a link to a great channel called Abandoned and Forgotten Places is provided in the caption above). I have been using screenshots from some of these videos to provide visual examples of what the players see while they explore. At the very beginning of the session I was discussing stalls and how they were used in caves at a point when the players had to descend a 200 foot near vertical drop. Here were a couple of thoughts expressed regarding that (I am paraphrasing):

a. “It is nice that you love mine exploration, and some of the details were interesting to learn about, but you went into far too much detail that I just didn’t care about. We should know what is necessary to engage in the adventure.” It seems that my current obsession with mine exploration has gone a little too far, and my explanations were too detailed and long-winded. I need to curb my enthusiasm on some subjects and keep it confined to the essentials.

b. Over use of hirelings. In my Barrowmaze group all my players use two characters, in this group only about half the players do, and a few of them expressed the opinion that we could make use of hirelings to expand the resources and capabilities for the group. I love the use of hirelings and since I have not really used them much since my AD&D 1E days, I happily supplied six dwarven miners to help the group out. It now seems clear that six was too many. The challenge I presented of having the players descend a vertical shaft with ropes became relatively easy when I had dwarven miners at each stall assisting the PCs in their descent. Although players did fail some of their climb checks, because there were so many safety measures in place most characters just got scratches of 1-4 hit points in damage per fall to the next stall. I made things too easy. Since the group doesn’t have any dwarves or characters with mining backgrounds in the group, without the hirelings the challenge level to climb down would’ve jumped substantially, and instead of only needing to cast one cure light wounds spell on one player after the descent, there would probably have been a lot more injured characters. But it was stated that “without the dwarven miner hirelings, I think we would’ve found a solution to climb down on our own even if we were a bit more roughed up.”

2. Revealing too much.
Earlier this week in my Barrowmaze campaign, I described one point in the adventure where the players spent 20 minutes trying to solve a puzzle. I almost intervened to assist them several times, but just as I was about to do so a player would nearly come up with the solution, so I would back off, only for them to veer in a different direction. After the game the players expressed real annoyance at that room and the setup (they blamed the game designer for making such a “dumb” way to design a room, but I suspect some of that was meant for me but they were too polite to say so).

Since that game session was still so fresh in my mind, I chose in this session to try and make up for that by being a more helpful GM. The problem is that I now moved too far in the opposite direction and used the dwarven hirelings to pretty much tell the players everything they needed to know. The players didn’t really need to solve much at all. I was just handing them information in chunks. One comment to me was that I should only give reasons or explanation when it is asked for and not just freely give it out. That is a fair point. I have gone from one extreme of patiently waiting for my players to solve a problem to giving them a steady flow of easy answers so as to make the challenges nearly trivial. I need to work to find that middle-ground point again.

3. Railroading.
Finally, we have railroading. In several places I gave the players a false sense of choice. This held true most strongly in the large chamber with the low-lying methane gas. They were all prepped to extinguish their fire sources, hold their breath, and have the dwarven miners and half orc party members lead them through the dark, when abruptly there was the “option” to climb up a 15-20 foot area above the methane. So, a lot of prep for avoiding the methane became an unnecessary waste of time and effectively a non-problem.

So, as you can see, there were a lot of issues tonight. A conversation with one player lasted a good half an hour after the end of the game session as they laid out their issues and problems (with support from another player).

It wasn’t all doom and disappointment with my GMing, though, for I had a conversation with another player on Discord (this campaign is an online Discord game) for the next three hours discussing the challenges and triumphs of developing our individual campaign worlds (there is some overlap with what we are trying to do with our worlds, so we face similar challenges). I love discussing world-building!

Still, since I just spent almost this entire blog post examining mistakes I made, I haven’t forgotten the issues that need to be addressed. I’ve been DMing for decades (since AD&D 1E) and yet no matter how long you run games, you are going to have bad spells and stumble sometimes. I only hope I can find that middle-ground between extremes for my next Barrowmaze game in a few days!

Castles & Crusades Diary: Dragonclaw Barony, Session 30

The adventurers descend into the underworld using dwarven spelunker hirelings to assist. They fight cavernlight moss, bats, and giant funnel-web spiders. I also do a review of Owlbear Rodeo VTT, discuss use of hirelings to enhance the game, mine exploration videos, and dungeoneer survival guides.

Jabari Rajul-min Alshrq, Human Monk 2/Cleric 1 (class and a half) of Horus 
Magnus, Gnome Druid 3 of Belenus 
Malcolm, Human Wizard 3/Bard 1 of Arcanus
Homonoea, Dragonslayer 2 of Athena
Rok, Half-Orc Fighter 3 of Crom
Anne, Elf Rogue 3/Cleric 2 of Laeroth Mestarine

Thorthic Norain, Dwarven Barbarian/Cleric of Thor

Three “Axe for Hire” Dwarves of Dumathoin
Three “Wayfinder” Dwarves of Dumathoin

Game Session Diary:
The adventurers descend into the underworld seeking out the origins of raiding Grimlocks they had previously encountered, seeking treasure, exotic underground creatures and draconic creatures.

Before getting any further, I want to mention how much I still love Owlbear Rodeo VTT for games I run online. For this session I used an initiative tracker that I learned of watching some You Tube tutorials (you can take whatever style initiative tracker you like, upload it as a token, and then just drag it onto your map and your players can drop their tokens on top of it when they roll initiative. In the map shown below you can see the initiative bar and player tokens at the bottom left. In the top left the players have set up marching order (or watch order if they are resting). And on the map we simply use one token to represent the group, NPC, and monster(s) and rely on theatre of mind to deal with the details. I am a huge theatre of mind person and only want to rely on a VTT at the most minimal, non-intrusive level, and Owlbear Rodeo is the best VTT out their to assist a GM in running a game and not become a crutch for which you have to spend untold hours using it to prepare for a game. The setup below took me 5 minutes.

This VTT map I used for my adventure can be located at:

Okay, back to the game diary. Thorthic, an NPC that has been with this group for quite a while new they would need some help when he learned they were going to descend into the earth. He may be a dwarf and has some knowledge regarding stonework, but he is a barbarian/cleric of Thor, so decided to hire (with some of the money he got from previous adventures with the group) some dwarven miners and mercenaries of the dwarven god Dumathoin, who has enhanced their mining abilities (in my game world worshipping a god bestows some special abilities, much like specialty priests from 2E or prestige classes from 3E). With their additional abilities (background as miners) and equipment (e.g. expert dungeoneer backpacks with lots of rope, grappling hooks, etc.) they were prepared.

And now a quick aside on Hirelings! Hirelings are a great way provide much needed skill enhancement and extra muscle if the group ends up in a tough situation. It allows players to focus on what is important to them without having to get too bogged down in other details while I still get to emphasize other important parts of the adventure. With extra muscle the adventure can also be more challenging. It really is the perfect balance, the NPC and hirelings lurk in the background letting the PC’s shine, and when a major challenge arises, they can then do their thing as support.

Okay, now back to the game diary! After descending through the original Grimlock area they had visited more than a month before, they arrived at a large cavern filled with a green moss with yellow glowing spheres (Cavernlight Moss, see picture below). It mostly hugged the edges of this huge cavern (see the map above; each square represents 10 feet). In the central part of the cavern hundreds of bats lurked on the ceiling a hundred feet above them.

Cavernlight Moss art from Tome of Beasts by Kobold Press

The characters had to decide how they were going to proceed through the cavern, down the central portion underneath the bats and move through as much as several feet of bat guano, or hug the sides and discover whether the cavernlight moss was carnivorous.

They moved to the side to avoid as much guano as possible and the cavernlight moss swung its tendrils toward the party members! Many swung their weapons and tore off a tendril here and there, but Anne was not going to waste any time, she cast sound burst, which caused such a boom that chunks of moss fell to the ground as well as over a dozen bats! If they weren’t awake before, the bats were sure awake now! While other adventurers tried to move forward, Anne sent up another sound burst, the cavernlight moss in that early section was now dead and dozens more bats fell from the air, with the rest deafened or confused by the sound. Anne then cast the spell a third time! Dozens more bats fell. Even though there were hundreds of bats in the cavern, they couldn’t deal with this anymore and fled through openings in the ceiling found in the northeast alcoves that led to the surface (this had also provided air currents throughout the cavern which ensured the bat guano smell was not overwhelming).

Exiting through the southern part of the chamber they found a 60° descending shaft. The rock on this shaft was very unstable and could break off in your hands or under your feet. This was why Thorthic hired dwarven mining experts! They set off ahead to set up at roughly 50-60 foot intervals iron spikes hammered into the rock and connected by rope. At each of the roughly 60 foot sections one of the dwarves stood, ready to catch an adventurer that might fail their climb check and beginning to tumble down the shaft. And tumble a few of them did! I had the players make checks to descend the shaft (Strength or Dexterity, depending on how they chose to descend, this is part of the virtue of C&Cs SIEGE Engine mechanic, you have versatility and choice when it comes to how you do things). If they failed that check I gave them a Dex save to try and catch the rope, hold on, and regain their footing. If they failed that save they then began tumbling down the 20 foot wide tunnel and had to hope that a dwarf or another companion would catch them at some point during a 50-60 foot tumble. Several characters did indeed take a tumble, but luckily with this setup a dwarf or companion always got them (albeit a little scuffed up and damaged!).

Screenshot from the You Tube mine exploration programme Abandoned and Forgotten Places.

Arriving at the bottom they found small side caverns that darted off to the side of the main corridor. These, however were filled with large funnel-web spiders. All the tumbling rock and dust had covered up most of the webs and they were hard to see. The group knew from a few Grimlock foot prints that they needed to head north. They ended up tripping over some hidden webs and giant spiders darted out. The spiders found it hard to hit the well armored Homonoea, but Thorthic got a mighty bite, and even though dwarves get impressive poison saves, I rolled low and he became paralyzed…for 13 hours! Fortunately, the adventurers killed the spiders before that! But they did choose to enter one of the empty alcoves to rest for the night waiting for their dwarven friend to recover. With six dwarves with 120 foot deepvision spread out among the three watches, nothing got near the group.

The next “morning” (a rather meaningless term underground), they continued north and fought more spiders, eventually arriving at a large, multi-leveled cavern (see map above). To the west was a large group of giant rats (they estimated around 30), some party members went back and procured some spider meat and with two hands heaved mighty chunks to the hungry rats (which seemed to satisfy them) and they were temporarily left alone.

To the northwest they found a small mushroom patch of what seemed to be edible mushrooms (according to the dwarves). There was also a set of tracks from a single rat. What could tracks from a lone giant-ish rat mean?

To the east they found several large steps leading nearly 60 feet below to another stone platform. On that platform the dwarves, making use of a finely focused beam from their bullseye lantern, saw a strange erected stone monument by the Grimlocks to some kind of serpent creature. Could this be some kind of dragon or drake?

The dwarves also could tell the platform would be descending into the earth even further at more than an 80° angle – the dwarven hirelings were going to be even more important here! But that will be for our next session in two weeks.

I’ve been watching a lot of mining shows recently, such as Abandoned and Forgotten Places. I’ve also enjoyed re-reading portions of the AD&D Dungeoneeer’s Survival Guide, as well as the recently published Survivalist’s Guide to Spelunking by AAW games (a homage and modern take on the DSG, indeed Douglass Niles contributed to this modern book as well). It is always fun to try and bring an environment to life and hope you can give everyone a fresh look at something. I look forward to seeing what I can add in the future.

Castles & Crusades Diary: Dragonclaw Barony, Session 29

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.

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

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?

Castles & Crusades Diary: Dragonclaw Barony, Session 28

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.

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)

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: Dragonclaw Barony, Session 27

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!

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)

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).

Castles & Crusades Diary: Dragonclaw Barony, session 26

Exploring two greenhouses in the former wizard village of Somber Grove, the adventurers discover some truly exotic plants (pictures below) with incredible future potential to enhance character’s spells, armor, and weapons. They also battled giant slugs and an assassin vine!

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

Thorthic Norain, Dwarven Barbarian/Cleric of Thor

Game Diary:
I had a small number of players for this session: two players were at North Texas RPG Con, one had work duties, and another fell ill. Still, I had three players, and with my policy of encouraging players to play two characters (C&C is a rules-light game and this is easy to manage), we still had 5 characters plus an NPC that was accompanying them. Even though that meant our group was half its normal size, for many RPG’s this would constitute a full adventuring group!

The players left off in the long abandoned wizard-run village of Somber Grove. Last time they had explored a few southern buildings, acquired some locked-away magical scrolls and fought off a harpy and her giant frog thralls. For today, this smaller group had two choices, continue exploring the abandoned village (which was slowly being swallowed by a swamp after decades of neglect), or head off to the Zombraire Estate which was one hour up and abandoned road (where they had seen from a high tower with the keen eyes of their elf, a skeleton oxen plowing fields of undead vegetation led by father, mother, and children zombies. My Discord players decided that the Zombraire Estate was best saved for when we had more players, so they chose to explore the two greenhouses in the mid portion of the two road village (there is a northern east-west road, and a southern east-west road, they had explored the southern east-west road during the previous session).

Both greenhouses were roughly 30 x 20 feet in size. The east greenhouse had a four foot stone wall surrounding it with iron bars forming a semicircle over it where plants and hangers could hang. Due to the decades of neglect the place was wild with overgrown plants. The western greenhouse had a roughly six foot high wall and the iron bars arched higher with wooden slats running across the top that could be adjusted to allow sun in during different parts of the day. Much of the wood had rotted away. They could also hear buzzing from the western greenhouse, and the druid – Magnus – determined there were giant bees inside, probably collecting pollen. The group chose to enter the seemingly empty eastern greenhouse.

Magnus peeked in first and was hit by a barb that had been fired at him from some animal! He had to make a save versus paralysis…and failed! He fell to the ground with a thud. Eliam knelt down and cast remove paralysis on him. Then Eliam was hit by a barb! He now had to make a paralysis save, and he also failed! Now Thorthic stepped forward and cast remove paralysis on Eliam. The clerics had given this group a fighting chance with their 2nd level spells, but they were now out of that spell!

Looking over the 4 foot wall and between the bars, the group could see four giant slimy snails slowly making their way toward the entrance. Both Magnus and Eliam had gotten a glimpse of the plants inside and knew this battle would be worth it for them, so the group continued their attacks. Thorthic hurled a hammer (he worships Thor), Endur fired all the arrows he had from his longbow, Jabari punched them, and Magnus hurled sling bullets. Once the snails got within melee range they resorted to bites (better than the paralytic ranged barbs!), although their teethy bites were dangerous, the group no longer had to worry about paralysis! The slugs eventually got sliced, pounded, and pierced enough that they died. The clerics in the group then proceeded to use up the remainder of their healing getting the group back up to some semblance of adventuring standard. Now it was time to explore the flowering plants within.

Fire Flower (art from Harold the Halflings Herbology Handbook, by Deep Dungeon Games)

The druid, clerics, wizard, half-elf, and dwarf, put their heads together to identify these plants. The first exotic plant they found was Fire Flower. This 6 foot tall flower can be used by the right person to make a person immune to the heat of fire for a short time. Those who work the forge tend to use this plant to allow them to work longer without fear of injury. Endur happens to be a worshiper and smith of the Celtic God of the forge – Goibniu, and Homonoea is a dragonslayer who can craft items made from a dragon. Both were going to benefit from this plant as they gained levels and improved their smithing skills. Additionally, the flower’s stalks are quite sturdy, and when spears and javelins are made from them they can be thrown twice their normal distance.

Dragon’s Bloom (art from Harold the Halflings Herbology Handbook, by Deep Dungeon Games)

Next was Dragon’s Blume. Homonoea perked up again. The center orb of this flower glows in the presence of dragons (very useful in the Dragonclaw Barony where dragons are known to exist). With the properly skilled person, the petals of the flowers can be brewed to make potions that provide magical resistance to various elements.

Daydreamer’s Slumber (art from Harold the Halflings Herbology Handbook, by Deep Dungeon Games)

Daydreamer’s Slumber was another discovery in this greenhouse. Barbarians and Rangers are aware that this is a lifesaving source of purified water. It can also be brewed to make a powerful tea that supposedly can make one’s mind pure and unable to lie (it is sometimes used during important diplomatic negotiations by nobles when the stakes are high). Finally, it can be ground into a paste which can induce sleep.

The group decided at this point to head back to the abandoned warehouse where they had fought the harpy in the previous game session (and where they are storing their mounts, and also where the other members of the group are remaining to look after them – that’s my typical policy when players can’t make a game session – we simply say they are looking after the mounts and carts while the others adventure). As they camped for the evening, some brewed up a little daydreamer’s slumber to test out its truth-telling properties. It was during this role-playing interlude that several characters spoke the truth about what they felt about each other (all very encouraging and up-lifting!), and these group members bonded over the experience. The night went by peacefully.

The next morning they headed to the larger west greenhouse. Magnus had heard bees there the previous day and this morning they saw 6, four were resting on the roof with pollen packets on their legs ready to fly off, and two more getting their fill within. The characters waited patiently and the bees eventually flew off.

Upon entering this greenhouse they found some small trees, as well as more hanging plants from the bars crossing the top. They also found more exotic plants, this time fruiting vegetation.

Dwarven Hug (art from Harold the Halflings Herbology Handbook, by Deep Dungeon Games)

One of the hanging plants was Dwarven Hug. If this is added to molten metal during forging, it can cause the weapon being made to either produce extra damage, increased range, and perhaps even elemental enhancement! This was again something Endur and Homonoea were excited about.

All in all, the group found the plants I detailed above, as well as plants named False Duke (superstition says that it protects a person wearing this flower from mortal weapons), Ramar (makes a fruity wine, can fertilize land, and can add fragrance to fires and candles), Ipe (can be woven into baskets and sleeping pads, but also has limited medicinal use removing minor poisons. Elves also use it as a paper for their books and writings), Pionia Bulbs (this pulpy fruit makes a great side dish or baked desert. It can also be used in the manufacture of health potions and similar creations).

The group next entered a building across the street from the greenhouses which seemed to be where the local law enforcer had once been located. The walls of the building outside and in were covered in vines. The group entered and Endur “the thick” wondered if there was a panel in the floor (even though this village had been built near a swamp and having cellars was not a wise idea since it would be filled with murky swamp water). But Endur “the thick” did find a floor panel! He began tearing it up (the rotted planks broke off in his hand, so this took some time). They also noticed a hatch in the ceiling that would lead up to a small loft between the ceiling and the soggy thatched roof above. Magnus took a look up a ladder and noticed a chest with wizard markings. Homonoea was in the corner of the room while this was going on when interior vines on the ceiling and wall moved to capture and constrict her, lifting her off the ground. She was immobilized. Although she was a strong dragonslayer and giant killer, her checks to break free could not beat the this powerful plants strength. The characters dropped what they were doing and went to free her. As the rounds went on she was constricted to unconsciousness, and was likely one round away from being constricted to death by this assassin vine before the axes and hammers from her friends managed to kill it. This was a very close call!

But Eliam would say that exploring this building was worth it, for casting detect magic on the chest he could tell that there was magic within it (scrolls and a potion), and the cover had a necromancy magical barrier on it. Throwing some of the living vines on the chest caused them to age. They threw living vines on the chest several times before they could sense the magic fading. Finally, Eliam chose to touch it (he was a half-elf, so he guessed that any aging would have less of an effect on him), he failed his saving throw and discovered he got one year younger! This was a most peculiar magical trap! Inside were long lost moderate and higher level wizard scrolls that would allow him to summon watery elemental guardians to defend him, and another where if he could scrape off a piece of flesh from a living creature, he would be able to transform himself into that type of creature for a short period of time!

This was deemed a good time to stop the game session and the three players and myself enjoyed a relaxed conversation for what ended up being more than an hour after our normal stop point! My Tuesday Barrowmaze game is now in-person, and this Dragonclaw Barony game is played with people throughout North America and Europe, and thus will remain remote, but we have a great rapport, and with their energy and enthusiasm, I have been very pleased to introduce some new and very different ideas into this campaign to keep this group of mostly old-school players on their toes and hopefully give them experiences they haven’t had in their decades of gaming!

Castles & Crusades Diary: Dragonclaw Barony, session 25

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

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

Thorthic Norain, Dwarven Barbarian/Cleric of Thor

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

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

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

Harpy art from Pathfinder 2E

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

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

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

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

Castles & Crusades Diary: Dragonclaw Barony, session 24.

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

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

Thorthic Norain, Dwarven Barbarian/Cleric of Thor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Castles & Crusades Diary: Dragonclaw Barony, session 23.

The Adventurers finish exploring the Tomb of the Barbarian Prince Thorin Zuse and return to Dale. Enroute rot vultures and grimlocks attack them. Upon returning to Dale, several gain a level, and rest for a month as they prepare for their next adventure.

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

Thorthic Norain, Dwarven Barbarian/Cleric of Thor

Game Diary:
Although the players didn’t know it, there were just two rooms left to explore in the Tomb of Thorin Zuse. Those rooms were quickly explored and more treasure was found, and from there they focused on how they were going to get all their treasure out (several thousand gold pieces, some chests, and four massive tapestries. It took them half a day, but they managed to carry their findings through secret and small hatchways, and up stairways several hundred feet up to the surface. Even though they had been underground for several days, the horses they had left behind were safe, but hungry.

They had a several day journey to get back to the town of Dale. During their first day a group of rot vultures smelled the death of Juhraveal (the half-elf rogue who had died in the previous session and was now being taken back to Dale for burial). Endur was riding on the horse that carried Juhraveal and he fought to defend her body as the undead vultures swooped down from the sky.

“Scavenger” art by Shin KongZilla @klawarts (Twitter)

Endur fought one of them off while two others chose to attack Rok. The group attacked with magic missiles, bows, and spears. As they went down Rok galloped forward on his mount to fight the one near Endur, but he rolled a critical fail and ended up critically hitting Endur! Fortunately, Endur didn’t get hurt too badly and they got the last rot vulture down. The smell of them caused many to vomit.

For their first nights rest the people on second watch were attacked by grimlocks, gray-skinned, blind, humanoids that normally dwell underground. The night sky was cloudy and there was no moon out, so all they had to rely on for light was their campfire. There were only two of them and those on watch dealt with them just as the other members of the group were awakened. The group took note of where this happened, for if grimlocks could be found coming to the surface in this area of the Llancrest Wood, that could mean there may be a deep cave system or even access to the underworld nearby.

Overall this was a rather light session and a couple of characters leveled up. Several months back I sent emails to players with information their characters might have which could lead to future adventures. So whenever an adventure comes to an end I let the players make a pitch for what to do and where to go next. After discussing some of their options they agreed to head in two weeks to an abandoned village bordering the Llancrest Forest where the Zombraire Estate is located, a home of former nobles, for if you are looking for treasure, then an estate where a noble family once dwelled could be a good choice! When our next session comes in two weeks I will supply them with more information (their characters did take a one month break) and they will head out.