Castles & Crusades Diary: Barrowmaze, Session 88

Summary:
The Army of the Light enters the Grand Sepulcher of the Elements and defeats Zvin Lorktho, a mummy lord, and his 12 mummy followers. The fighting was fierce and elven archer Elfgiva became a casualty of the massive battle.

PC’s:
Gnoosh, Gnome Rogue 7/Illusionist 6 of Baravar Cloakshadow
Elfgiva, Elf Archer 3/Cleric 3/Wizard 3 of Sehanine Moonbow
Ria, Human Pacer 5 of Loki
Zen, Human Monk 7 of St. Agathos
Arthur, Human Oathsworn 6 of Celestian
Oswyn, Human Cleric 4 of St. Jasper
Gorgat, Half-Orc Barbarian 7 of Haephestus
Tiberius, Human Cleric 5/Paladin 2 of St. Ingrid
Kyron, Human Cleric 7 of Zuul
Balthazar, Elf Wizard 7 of Arcanus

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

Game Diary:
Last time Kyron was had taken control of 2 16 hit die water and air elementals, and 11 8 hit dice air and water elementals and with them destroyed 15 undead (mummies, wraiths, and rot grub zombies). The group was largely out of spells from these battles and many needed healing. They decided to rest while the elementals remained on guard. However, Kyron discovered that if he tried to rest the elementals would break free of his control and destroy them all. So, he remained awake during the time his companions rested. More than 8 hours later he was getting fatigued from trying to retain control of the elementals, but at least his companions were rested. They were prepared to enter the final Grand Sepulcher of the Elements and take on Zvin Lorthko, the final high priest of Zuul, a forgotten god of Elemental Chaos. He had since been turned into a zombie by the Tablet of Chaos in the Barrowmaze and Zuul whispered into the mind of Kyron – his newly converted priest – that once he destroyed Lorthko, he would be on the path to renew his religion and become his new high priest.

Using Gnoosh’s robe of eyes and hat of telepathy, as well as other characters’ ability to detect evil, they worked out that there were going to be roughly 12 mummies they would have to get through before Zvin Lorthko could be reached. However, Lorthko was aware of them and waited for them. Kyron also realized that if he confronted Lorthko with all the elementals under his control, that Lorthko would most likely try and wrest control of them from him, and considering Kyron was just mid-level, and Lorthko was once a high-priest who had, perhaps, been the one who originally summoned them in the first place to guard the sepulchers, Kyron left them at the exit point to this final tomb (this turned out to be a good decision!).

art by Rabeen Aas, Deviant Art

The group initially proceeded slowly down a long 100+ foot long corridor running into a few isolated mummies and they destroyed them rather easily. During this time Lorthko taunted Kyron, egging him on, but they continued slowly. To force the hand of the Army of the Light the walls exploded outward and four mummies charged forth toward the group, an aura of fear emanated from them and several characters failed their saving throw and fled back down the corridor. This was where the water and air elementals had remained and the characters were prevented from leaving the area by hitting a wall of wind and water.

The clerics at this point turned undead – successfully! – and the mummies turned and fled.

Where the mummies going to be dealt with this easily?

No!

As the group approached a stairway that headed down, a mummy with a staff – Lorktho – aimed his staff, which was crackling with electrical energy, and shot a lightning bolt down the corridor. It dealt a lot of damage. Fortunately for most of the party, they had good Dexterity saving throws and took half damage. Unfortunately, Elfgiva, the elven archer/cleric/wizard failed her save and was destroyed from the blast. She also had a magical elven bow that was incredibly powerful. I told the player to roll a saving throw for it, and said that that because it was so powerful that only a roll of a 1 would be a failure. The player rolled a 1 – the elven bow was destroyed!

Balthazar next used a card from the Deck of Dirty Tricks that allowed him to use an enemies magic item for one round. Suddenly “the gods” seemed to favor the Army of the Light and Lorktho’s staff suddenly appeared in Balthazar’s hand.

Arthur had now lept into action and jumped down the stairs directly in front of Lorktho and fought him one-on-one. A series of magic missiles also found their way to Lorktho and he was being battered down. Arthur then discovered rushing toward him four more mummies to fight by the side of Lorktho! Plus, even without his magical staff, Lorktho was a powerful priest, and he began pondering what powerful spell he could use next – would it be flamestrike or harm? Lorktho chose to cast harm on Arthur, which would reduce him to a mere 4 hit points and from there a simple slam attack from a nearby mummy would kill him.

The plan was set. We rolled initiative – the players beat me and this changed everything! They continued to throw spells at him, Arthur attacked, and then Dhekeon lept from the top of the stair and with two strikes of his two-handed sword struck the former high priest down mere moments (in initiative sequence) before Lorktho would’ve cast his spell and his mummies would have killed Arthur.

One character had died in this battle and another was just a portion of an initiative away from joining her. I then realized after the battle that Lorktho had a magic item that gave him magic resistance and he should’ve been able to ignore several of the spells that had been cast at him. But as I was trying to manage 12 mummies, plus all the spells and other magic items that Lorktho had, this had slipped my mind! Oh well, that happens! The adventure was still a lot of fun! The adventure ended with the group entering the final chamber and collecting thousands of gold pieces in loot and a healthy amount of magic items. The Sepulcher of Chaotic Elements had taken several game sessions and once everyone made it back to Irongaurd Motte several characters leveled up from all that hard work, including Gnoosh, who became the first character to reach 9th level in this campaign. Since I operate this element of my game like AD&D, that means that he will now be getting followers, and the slow work he had been doing in recent levels to begin his own thieves guild will finally fall into place!

Castles & Crusades Diary: Barrowmaze, Session 87

Summary:
My players broke the game and all hell broke loose! Cleverly using a spell, a player bypassed two crypts of monsters and directly grabbed the prized items. The guardian elementals (11 8HD and 2 16 HD), and 15 undead (3 wraiths, 6 mummies, 6 rot grub zombies) smashed through the walls to destroy the group! But the priest managed to command ALL the elementals to fall under his command and destroy the undead!

PC’s:
Gnoosh, Gnome Rogue 7/Illusionist 6 of Baravar Cloakshadow
Elfgiva, Elf Archer 3/Cleric 3/Wizard 3 of Sehanine Moonbow
Ria, Human Pacer 5 of Loki
Zen, Human Monk 7 of St. Agathos
Arthur, Human Oathsworn 6 of Celestian
Oswyn, Human Cleric 4 of St. Jasper
Gorgat, Half-Orc Barbarian 7 of Haephestus
Tiberius, Human Cleric 5/Paladin 2 of St. Ingrid
Kyron, Human Cleric 7 of Zuul
Balthazar, Elf Wizard 7 of Arcanus

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

Game Diary:
When session 86 ended the Army of the Light had cleared out all of the Chaos Sepulcher of Elemental Earth except for the final chamber, where they needed to fight the final earth elemental guardians and grab the skull key needed for the final chamber (they need skull keys for earth, fire, air, and water, to enter and take on the final challenge, and they so far just had the fire key).

Fully rested up from the previous adventure they returned and entered the final earth elemental chamber. Stalagmites and stalactites were everywhere with an altar 80 feet away at the far end. Knowing there were going to be obstacles in the way from having completed the fire chamber (where Roulf used his boots of striding and springing to leap to the altar, grab the skull key, and put the fire elemental guardians on a goose chase him around the room). This time it was Ria who used her winged helmet and swiftly flew through the chamber and grabbed the earth skull. Earth elementals emerged from the walls and floor and Ria darted through the air keeping out of reach.

Meanwhile, the stalagmites and stalactites came to life and the characters learned they were piercers and ropers! The ropers struck Elfgiva, Kyron, Gorgat, and Tiberius, and the poisonous sludge-coated strands drained all of them of half their Strength and pulled them towards its mouth. Although the piercers missed their marks, the battle with the ropers was tough and once they finally destroyed them in their weakened conditions they had to help Ria out with the Earth elementals. Fortunately, there were four clerics in the group and they neutralized the poison from the ropers and restored everyone’s strength. Kyron then cast walk through earth, a special ability his new god Zuul provided him as his specialty priest. He lowered himself into the ground and two earth elementals pursued him. The earth elementals proved challenging and when they struck the characters they hit hard. But they were eventually defeated and people were healed by the four clerics. Spells had been used up in the battle and the group thought it good to leave, rest, and recover, before returning for the next two sepulchers (air and water).

Roper art from the D&D 5E Monster Manual

Then Kyron had an idea. Instead of laboriously going through the Chaos Sepulchers of Elemental Air and Water, why not just use his walk through earth spell (it lasted an hour), head over to the two chambers of Air and Water, move unseen up through the stone altar, grab the skull keys, and head back to the group, bypassing all the undead and monsters that lie in-between!! The group agreed with uncertainty of what to expect. They waited for him as he head off on his own through the earth floor. He proceeded to enter each of the final chambers in these sepulchers, grab the two skull keys, and met the rest of the group back at the main entrance to the Chaos Sepulcher stairway which led out into the Barrowmaze.

It was then that they heard a whistling sound and splashing. Kyron had awakened all the elemental guardians and undead in those two areas with his theft and the group could see from the entrance to the Sepulcher of Air that air elementals were battering down the bricked-up wall that separated them from the group. Likewise, the water elementals were battering at their bricked-up wall and water was beginning to pour through the washed away mortar. Then Gnoosh, with his robe of eyes saw that three wraiths were moving directly through the stone walls toward them (and thus would reach them first).

The clerics prepared their undead attacks and assaulted them as they arrived. Then the air elementals (4 8 HD and 1 16 HD) broke through and they all saw five tornadic columns shoot toward them at super-human speed. Kyron stepped forward and made a Wisdom check to impose his will on them as the first new cleric of the forgotten Chaos God of the Elements – Zuul – in centuries. With his dice roll, modifiers, and level he got 30! I made the challenge level 16 to match the highest hit die elemental – and he succeeded! They stopped and awaited his command. One needs to remember that these Chaos Sepulchers of Earth, Fire, Air, and Water were the resting place of perhaps the last of Zuul’s priesthood. Although these priests and followers had since been corrupted by the Chaos Tablet and the church of Nergal and turned into undead, Kyron now represented the first living priest of this faith in a very long time.

At this point, mighty waves of water descended down the corridor towards the group to “wash” them away into oblivion. Kyron stepped forward and tried to command them to stop as he did to the air elementals – he got another modified result of 30 and they also stopped and awaited his command!!

We had been in slight shock when Kyron use his spell to circumvent the tombs and directly grab the skull keys, but I thought that a solution had been found and now they were going to pay for their ingenuity (or “cheating,” take your pick!), but now with two successful, nearly impossible dice rolls, he now had all the elementals at his command!

Still, although the wraiths were gone, I still had 6 barrow mummies, 6 rot grub zombies, and an amphisbaena. Well, I thought I did. The clerics “turned” undead and as the undead retreated Kyron commanded the elementals to destroy them all. I am afraid that 96 hit dice worth of elementals can take care of some zombies and fleeing barrow mummies!

The session was now at its end, but all the players were high on their successes and decided to game longer and nonchalantly go through the Air and Water sepulcher chambers and collect all the loot. They went to the air elemental area first. It was indeed easy as they saw that the air elementals had “blown” the doors off their hinges and any traps had been triggered and were no longer an issue. They picked up the loot and entered the main chamber where there were still guardians of the air remaining – giant eagles (they had been too large to leave the chamber into the narrower halls, so they had to remain). Kyron was overflowing with success and commanded them to have them join his retinue of elemental followers, but this time he rolled a 1! Ah, but the group had a card from the Deck of Dirty Tricks that allowed a re-roll. He rolled again and…got another 1! Now the giant eagles were pissed off! It was there that I ended the session on a cliffhanger for next week.

We spoke animatedly about this for quite a while afterward as everyone packed up and put on their shoes and coats to leave. This was clearly one of the adventures that will stand out as a highlight of the campaign. They are already speaking about next week and with all the elementals under Kyron’s command of entering the fifth and final chamber and take on the former high priest of Zuul who is now a very powerful undead (Zuul wants him destroyed, for although this elemental priest was once his prized high priest, he is not pleased that he has been corrupted into an undead).

Will the group defeat the giant eagles? Probably. But can they defeat the former high priest of Zuul now that he is a powerful, corrupted, undead with other powerful undead support?

Castles & Crusades Diary: Barrowmaze, Session 86

Summary:
Gimli (dwarven berserker werewolf) dies as he is swallowed and devoured by a Bag of Devouring! Gnoosh (gnome rogue/illusionist) loses two levels from a wraith, and Wright (human paladin) loses one level from a wraith. Examining a powerful clerical scroll, Kyron (cleric) immediately loses his priestly powers from Charon and converts to Zuul, the forgotten god of Chaotic Elements, and is given a mission!

PC’s:
Gnoosh, Gnome Rogue 7/Illusionist 6 of Baravar Cloakshadow
Llewelyn, Elf Cleric 7/Wizard 6 of Sehanine Moonbow
Rosaline, Half-Elf (elven lineage) Druid 7 of The Daghda
Zen, Human Monk 7 of St. Agathos
Roulf, Half-Orc Dragonslayer 6 of Crom
Edward, Human Bard of St. Cecilia
Gorgat, Half-Orc Barbarian 7 of Haephestus
Tiberius, Human Paladin 3/Cleric 1 of St. Ingrid
Gimli, Dwarf Berserker 7 of Odin
Wright Dawnbreaker, Human Paladin 5 of St. Luther

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

Game Diary:
We left off last time with the Army of the Light entering the Sepulcher of Elemental Fire. They were hit by a wave of heat which functioned as a heat metal spell on those wearing metal armor, and the heat coming from a pit of lava burned their lungs so much that they were going to feel exhaustion within 10 rounds (effects similar to a slow spell). Several characters had endure elements and resist elements, which would reduce or slow down these effects, but the danger was all around them with lava crabs and lava weirds emerging from the lava pit. The session came to an end as Roulf lept over the lave pit, picked up the prized Skull of Fire Elements and four fire elements began to rise from the lava.

art by javi-ure, Deviant Art.

This session began with four 8 foot tall fire elementals emerging from the lava as well as a 16-foot tall fire elemental which spoke in Roulf direction “that [skull] belongs to ME.” But Roulf has boots of springing and striding and ran and jumped about the chamber always keeping ahead of the massive fire elemental leader. Spellcasters cast head fog to try and blind them, ranged combatants launched their weapons and magic missiles hit their targets. There were some hits by the elementals, but the protective endure and resist elements spells – and Gimli’s immunity to fire thanks to his Berserker Odin’s Fury – kept the group from taking too much damage, and the fire elementals fell.

You know the group did well and had enough resources left, for instead of wanting to head back to Ironguard Motte, they wanted to begin exploring the next sepulcher and chose the Chaos Sepulcher of Earth. It began simply enough with crypts filled with ravenous zombies, green slime, amber mold, ghouls, and ghasts. All proved challenging, but it was encountering four wraiths that left an impact on the group. Gnoosh was able to see them through the walls with his robe of eyes and prepared the group. The wraiths saw him and came in for the attack. He cast a cloak of energy on himself which would give them damage in any attack they did against him, but he himself was struck twice and failed his constitution save from both attacks thus draining him one level of rogue and one from illusionist. Wright was nearby and was also struck and lost a level of paladin before the wraiths were destroyed. It was at this point the group decided it was time to head back to Ironguard Motte and recover! They only had the grand chamber left to enter for the Sepulcher of Elemental Earth, but this would wait until the next session.

Back in town, Gimli wanted to examine a unique bag he had acquired in the previous adventure. Identify said it was a bag of holding, and yet when inanimate objects were put in it he was mostly unable to retrieve them afterward by trying to shake out the contents. So he decided to reach in and grab them. It was at this point something grabbed onto him He fought back with his dwarven strength to resist, but failed and the group members in the living area of their headquarters saw the dwarf get pulled into the bag, heard a gulping sound, and his worg familiar felt their empathic link abruptly end – Gimli had been devoured by some extra-dimensional creature! Gimli, much like Cobalt, the paladin who preceded him in death, had been one of the most well-known figures in the Army of the Light and now all that remained was a memory and stories of what he had done, and what stories will be told of what he did!

One other thing that had been discovered in the Sepulcher of Chaotic Elements was a clerical scroll was worth 10,000gp to the right sage or ecclesiastic labeled “The Doctrine of Zuul.” They discovered earlier that Zuul was an ancient and now forgotten Chaotic god of the Elements. This scroll would outline the teachings and basic tenets of Zuul and his faith. Kyron decided he wanted to read the scroll and after doing so immediately felt a change within himself. Previously a Neutral cleric of Charon, the boatman, he was now stripped of the unique powers that Charon had given him and abruptly became a Chaotic Neutral priest of Zuul – the faith would live again with him, and new powers were bestowed onto him! [It should be noted that in my games I use something equivalent to specialty priest abilities that were found in AD&D 2nd edition and prestige class powers from 3E that are given to everyone based on the god they worship, so Kyron did not simply experience some mundane thing like having a god change, alignment change, and no ability changes; no, he lost several bonus abilities from Charon such as sensing undead, commanding undead, and protection from evil, and instead now receives resistance to elemental spell effects, and can begin casting unique elemental spells found within the C&C book Elemental Spells].

Filled with this new faith, Kyron looked forward to his new spiritual mission, and his first challenge was presented to him by the awakened god Zuul: his former high priest – Zvin Lorktho – had been buried in the Barrowmaze, but the Table of Chaos over time had turned him and his followers into undead. Undead are an abomination to this god of the elements and he told Kyron that he must destroy Lorktho, take his items as his own, and become the new High Priest of Zuul and spread the faith anew! Kyron was pleased!

We return to the Sepulcher of Elemental Earth next session!

Castles & Crusades Diary: Barrowmaze, Session 85

Summary:
The Army of the Light enters the Chaos Sepulcher of the Elements and battle a spectre named Fecal Nul, golems made of stone and gems, before ending up in a chamber fighting lava crabs, lava weirds, and a variety of fire elementals emerge from a lava pool as the adventure ends on a cliffhanger!

PC’s:
Gnoosh, Gnome Rogue 7/Illusionist 6 of Baravar Cloakshadow
Llewelyn, Elf Cleric 7/Wizard 6 of Sehanine Moonbow
Rosaline, Half-Elf (elven lineage) Druid 7 of The Daghda
Zen, Human Monk 7 of St. Agathos
Roulf, Half-Orc Dragonslayer 6 of Crom
Arthur, Human Oathsworn 6 of Celestian
Gorgat, Half-Orc Barbarian 7 of Haephestus
Tiberius, Human Paladin 3/Cleric 1 of St. Ingrid
Gimli, Dwarf Berserker 7 of Odin
Wright Dawnbreaker, Human Paladin 5 of St. Luther

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

Game Diary:
In game terms the Army of the Light took several months off to level up, train to pick some Advantages from the Castle Keepers Guide, and wait for winter to pass so that they could head back to the Barrowmaze after winter and the snow had melted.

And so they head back to the Barrowmaze on a bright, sunny, but chilly day during the first week of April, having last visited in mid-December. They made their way through familiar halls noticing that during the intervening months that some previous dead bodies had been removed (or devoured, animated, etc.), and one bricked up wall they had knocked down had been bricked up again.

They finally arrived at the area they were seeking – the Chaos Sepulcher of the Elements. It is bricked up and sealed from the rest of the Barrowmaze, but the group takes out their sledgehammers and breaks it down. The nature-sensitive elves and druid pick up the sounds of whispers in the air. Gnoosh, with his robe of eyes that allows him to see into parallel realms, sees small, invisible, air elementals the size of fingers darting about in the air. Gimli, the dwarf picks up vibrations coming up from the earth. They were clearly entering an area in touch with the core elements of reality (albeit augmented by the force of chaos that has settled so firmly in this area).

They notice that there are five areas. They had previously worked out that four of the areas were associated with the four elements – air, water, fire, and earth. The symbols they analyzed led them in confidence to narrow down water and fire. Since Gimli, their dwarven berserker, was immune to fire when in Odin’s Fury, and Wright had frost brand, they chose to enter the fire elemental area first.

Breaking down that bricked-up wall revealed a corridor with eight doors with four on each side. One-by-one Gnoosh open locks (or the doors got knocked in when he failed) and they fought golems made of stone and gems (collecting some fine treasure from those encounters) and fought Sons of Gaxx (zombie-like creatures with rot grubs squirming inside them). Gnoosh launched a fireball into a room filled with three wights, and a couple of wraiths flashed through a door to drain the heroes, only to be despatched quickly. Gnoosh also has a hat of telepathy, which had provided him with a warning of intelligent creatures (like the wights but not the golems) behind some of the doors, reducing their chance of being surprised, and he soon picked up the thoughts of an insane person who referred to himself as Fecul Nul. Once a slave trader long ago, he had since turned mad as well as into a spectre. Gnoosh could sense his thoughts he passed approached through walls towards them. Then, as it passed through the closest walls Fecul could see Gnoosh and he made eye contact with the gnome and declared his intent to kill the wee illusionist/rogue. Gnoosh warned the group and conjured a protective magical cloak to surround him. Emerging from the walls the group attacked and the mad spectre fell before it could drain the gnome of the elements of life.

Art by Mark Tarisse

From Fecul they gathered an amazing handkerchief that had the capabilities of a bag of holding or a portable hole – but perhaps even more! They also found a skull with vertical waving lines, which the loremasters in the group had worked out represented fire and would provide access to other rooms in the complex.

Skull “keys” that fit into slots that will allow entrance to the fifth and final chamber of the Chaos Sepulcher of the Elements (art from Barrowmaze Complete).

They now arrived at the final double brass doors which undoubtedly led to the chamber of elemental fire (the doors were hot to the touch). They inserted the skull and the door opened. Before them, in a vaulted chamber that was roughly 60 x 90 feet was a pool of lava with an altar at the far end with the Skull of Fire.

Immediately they worked out that the heat in the room was quickly going to cause fatigue and heat exhaustion on those within, and those with metal gear were going to be affected as if under a heat metal spell. Druids and other spellcasters began casting endure elements and resist elements as a way to buy some time for several characters.

At this point, lava crabs began emerging from the lava pool. Gimli summoned Odin’s Fury, and now immune to fire damage, he charged forward. Gimli fought the crabs, and although he was immune to fire, their claws did do damage and one was a critical hit which tore at his magical leather armor and ripped a piece of it away (when my monsters roll crits I use weapon/armor wastage rules).

As the lava crabs were being taken down two pillars of lava rose from the lava pool and transformed into weird lava worms. Dhekeon, an undead immune to conditions like heat fatigue charged forward and fought one lava weird while standing at the edge of the lava pool. The heat in the room was going to cause the effects of a heat metal spell for those heavily armored and Dhekeon in his plate armor began to glow red hot and if he was a normal mortal would’ve begun to suffer from the red-hot metal on his flesh, but he fought on, taking the damage that was being dealt to him.

Although some had stayed back and used ranged weapons to avoid the heat, other characters that had been bolstered against the heat – such as the monk Zen who obviously doesn’t wear armor and doesn’t need to worry about his metal armor and weapons melting – closed in and assisted Gimli and Dhekeon in destroying the lava creatures.

Suddenly two surprising things happened, Roulf used his dragonslayer dexterity (and boots of striding and springing) and rushed into the room and then launched himself over the lava pool in between the lava weirds to where the altar was with the Skull of Fire located on top. He picked it up triumphantly like Indiana Jones picking up the skull in Raiders of the Lost Ark! He turned to see as the lava weirds and lava crabs fall to the adventurer’s several bursts of flames launch into the air from the lava pool and begin to transform into elemental fire creatures.

The battle was not over!

But the gaming session was! And so we ended on a cliffhanger for next week!

Castles & Crusades Diary: Barrowmaze, Sessions 83 and 84

Summary:
First: battles with crypt shades, spectres, ghouls, and a Remorhaz!
Next: Ironguard Motte is attacked at night by a bloodsoaker vine creeping over the city gate, a bonecrawler – composed of the corpses of the citizens of the city – along with bone delvers (grave diggers turned undead with glowing lanterns that drain life), enter the city and begin a march through the streets!

PC’s, Session 83:
Kyron, Human Cleric 6 of Charon
Magni, Dwarf Fighter 3 of Barundar Battleaxe
Rosaline, Half Elf (elven lineage) Druid 7 of The Daghda
Zen, Human Monk 7 of St. Agathos
Roulf, Half-Orc Dragonslayer 6 of Crom
Oswyn, Human Cleric 2 of St. Jasper
Rolando, Hobbit Rogue 4/Pacer 3 of Brandobaris Fleetfoot
Llewelyn, Elf Cleric 6/Wizard 6 of Sehanine Moonbow
Gorgat, Half Orc Barbarian 7 of Haephestus
Remi, Gnome Harlequin (Rogue 6/Illusionist 5) of Hermes

NPC, Session 83:
Dhekeon “the Disgraced,” fallen skeletal paladin of St. Justus (seeking redemption)

Game Diary, Session 83:
This diary was delayed a week due to Gamehole Con.

In session 83 the group continued to work their way through crypts they had begun the previous session. They battled crypt shades, ghouls, spectres, and after they had enough of the undead, and chose to leave the Barrowmaze and head home to warm up (the session took place during the third week of December after a good snowfall), they encountered a Remorhaz! It was a…heated…battle! The heat its body generated along with its attacks knocked some PCs hit points down nicely. But there were a lot of them and even though it shrugged off some magic spells with its magic resistance, the fighting types beat it down.

They arrive back and after several leveled up after several sessions of combatting the undead, they took 10 weeks off to relax, recover, and prepare for more adventuring in the spring.

PC’s, Session 84:
Zen, Human Monk 7 of St. Agathos
Rosaline, Half-Elf (elf lineage) Druid 7 of The Daghda
Gnoosh, Gnome Rogue 7/Illusionist 6 of Baravar Cloakshadow
Martin, Human Rogue 7 of Bacchus
Kyron, Human Cleric 7 of Charon
Sagira, Human Cleric 3 of Horus

Game Diary, Session 84:
This session began during the first week of March. However, since in real-time we are in the Halloween season, I decided to have a spooky adventure.

I described a cool evening (10°C/50°F) with many white clouds drifting over the sky covering most stars and both of the moons. The lantern lighters have just lit the street lanterns for the evening and all seems calm. Except the main headquarters of the Army of the Light gets a frantic knock on the door. A town administrator tells the 6 PCs who were up that the southeast gates had been opened and that former caretakers of the cemetery were carrying lanterns with an evil red glow and shovels which they were using to decapitate guards and citizens. At that point horrifying screams could be heard and the group headed out to stop them.

A Bone Delver. Art from Tome of Horrors 4 (Frog God Games)

Rushing down a side street they see two former caretakers heading down the 10-foot wide side street as half a dozen more headed down the much wider main road. The group split up. Gnoosh, used burning ground and dark chaos, and Zen used his fists to batter away at these undead. They managed to avoid the negative effects of their horrifying howl and they also noticed that there was black negative energy emanating from the lanterns (implying some kind of undead life or essence drain). Fortunately, the burning ground weakened the bone delvers and the dark chaos and monk attacks finished the job.

Meanwhile, the other members entered the main street. Area of effect spells would not work here as town guards and brave citizens were engaged in melee with the bone delvers. The heroes noticed that the blows from their shovels caused some effect which weakened the guards and citizens fighting them, reducing their ability to hit and do damage. Their screams also caused many to scatter – but not the adventurers!

The clerics managed to turn these former caretakers and Kyron called out for the children and vulnerable adults to gather around him as he cast a circle of protection. Attacking the bone delvers from behind made combat easier and they went down. Kyron then sent those he protected away and took to destroying their lanterns, knowing that if others touched them they may lose their lives.

Rosaline noticed at this point that there was some kind of moving mass of bloodsoaked vines moving over the high entry gates. Kyron arrowhawk familiar blasted it with lightning and Rosaline summoned a swarm of bats to attack it. Slashing weapons were needed to truly be effective on this, so those melee combatants struggled, even more so since the bloodsoaker vines when they struck a victim, would cause a bleeding wound that could only be closed by magical healing. Luckily, the group had two clerics, a druid, and an illusionist (illusionists in C&C can heal through the sheer force and power of their mind). Still, this caused them to use up a lot of their healing spells!

Once the vines were destroyed the group noticed a writhing mass of sharpened bones held together by flesh and muscle, clearly an amalgamation of the recently dead of Ironguard Motte stitched together my some sick necromantic magic. They moved forward to attack. There were six characters, but this bonecrawler had 12 whipfronds – so there were two attacks on each character! The bone blades cut deep on several, but the summoned swarm of bats moved in to weaken it and Gnoosh, who had conjured a flaming cape around himself, burned it away when it made contact with him. The battle was over!

Heading to the cemetery to try to discover what had caused this, Rosaline spoke with plants – a tree in this case – and asked what it had seen recently. It appeared that hooded shepherds herding their goats had passed through the area as their goats fed to keep the grass in the graveyard manageable. However, the shepherds were really acolytes of Orcus, and their goats were Gehennian Goats! The necromancers visited the graveyard caretakers, turned them undead, and then worked their horrific necromancy on the graveyard and deceased people of Ironguard Motte. As soon as you think the dangers of the Barrowmaze are contained, the group is reminded that the reach of undeath has long arms!

Castles & Crusades Diary: Barrowmaze, Session 82

Summary:
The Army of the Light is on the verge of falling into a deep sleep courtesy of the Sandman. Zen, the monk, shakes the hand of a long-dead nobleman turned into a wight (but the wight doesn’t realize he is undead). Zen then has to fight Death!

PC’s:
Kyron, Human Cleric 6 of Charon
Magni, Dwarf Fighter 3 of Barundar Battleaxe
Rosaline, Half Elf (elven lineage) Druid 7 of The Daghda
Zen, Human Monk 7 of St. Agathos
Roulf, Half-Orc Dragonslayer 6 of Crom
Oswyn, Human Cleric 2 of St. Jasper
Rolando, Hobbit Rogue 4/Pacer 3 of Brandobaris Fleetfoot
Llewelyn, Elf Cleric 6/Wizard 6 of Sehanine Moonbow
Gorgat, Half Orc Barbarian 7 of Haephestus
Remi, Gnome Harlequin (Rogue 6/Illusionist 5) of Hermes
Kyra, Elf Cleric 7 of Sehanine Moonbow
Orgren, Dwarf Fighter 3 of Sif

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

Game Diary:
Towards the end of the previous session the characters returned to Helix and swapped out some characters and then headed straight back in. Upon their return they entered the crypt of Halgritte, a former Shield Maiden. The group had to battle a caryatid column, brown mold, a couple of runic golems, and a variety of traps (such as poison darts that could’ve caused death if they had hit players). Fortunately, they defeated the foes, disarmed or avoided the traps, and this resulted in them collecting more than 9,000gp in treasure, as well as magical shield maiden chain armor, shield, and a winged helmet.

Next they entered a new crypt filled with dry sand that seemed to have mostly come from cracks in the stone walls. But the characters knew that above the Barrowmaze is a very peaty and wet barrowmoor, so they were suspicious, and so they should’ve been, for as they progressed further they were attacked by elemental sandlings. Wiping them out they entered a side chamber where a former priest with a shroud covering his face was sorting gemstones on a sarcophagus. When the group entered he seemed overjoyed and introduced himself as Yasuq-Jac and stepped forward to shake their hands in greeting. Zen stepped forward and asked if he could pull back his hood. Yasuq-Jac did and they saw white skin pulled tight over bones – my not so subtle suggestion that he is a wight. What made this different is that the former priest did not seem to realize he was dead. He seem genuinely pleased to see someone “after what has seemed like eternity.” Of course, his reaching out to shake hands was perhaps also a subconscious urge to drain their life force to empower himself. Zen, who as a monk has Constitution as a prime attribute, took a chance and shook Yasuq-Jac’s hand – and passed his save and thus did not loose a level! He then spoke with the wight for a while, asking about his past and life. He had trouble believing when he was told that he has been dead for hundreds of years! Kyron then thought he must be thirsty and handed him a vial of water – holy water! Yasuq-Jac had come to trust these people even as his undead nature began to surface more. He drank it and it burned him badly burning him as it went down his throat creating a hole in his neck where air from his lungs whistled out. He was easily destroyed after that, although they felt sad for the man who they killed.

Moving further into this sandy crypt they heard the softest and most calming voice saying “you look soooo tired. Don’t you need to sleep?” All non-elves immediately fell to the ground in a deep slumber. Luckily the elves got a saving throw and passed. They found a figure made of sand who appeared to be the cause of their friends sudden slumber and moved in to attack, for they could tell this sandman was going to continue trying to put them to sleep until they eventually failed (their saves). The two elves, one half-elf, and Dhekeon – who was immune to sleep since he is undead – attacked the sandman. Over the next couple rounds they continued to make their saves and that gave them time to kill him, at which point they could awaken their friends.

Surrounding them in this chamber where the sandman dwelled were scarabs – both magical and non-magical – all over the walls. They began taking them off. Some provided a boon (which an identify will reveal to them), and others had a negative effect, such as exploding in their face, and in the case of Zen, Death emerged and he had to battle death one on one. Death was very difficult to hit (AC 24), but Zen has multiple attacks each round as a monk and with the extra attacks he was able to beat down Death first. Fortunate indeed!

Image: indigolt/Fotolia

Entering a new set of crypts, they fought runic golems that caused them some light wounds, held others, and caused explosions on yet others (the runes covering them are filled with magical effects). When they defeated these their remains include some runic tablets, which can be a source of weal or woe depending on what random chance has given them (they plan to read them when they get back to their headquarters).

At this point the session had come to an end. There are just a few rooms left in this section and the Army of the Light will finish examining them next session!

Castles & Crusades Diary: Barrowmaze, Session 81

Summary:
1. The Army of the Light defeats barbarian lord Uthuk Amon Thar (vampire) along with his two wives (wights), but in the process, Arthur loses two levels from energy drain!
2. The response to energy drain has caused me to rethink and alter its use in my games. I explore alternatives and variations.

PC’s:
Gimli Hearthfire, Dwarf Berserker 6 of Odin
Wright Dawnbreaker, Human Paladin 3 of St. Luther
Edward, Human Bard 4 of St. Cecilia
Arthur, Human Oathsworn 7 of Celestian
Gorgat, Half-Orc Barbarian 6 of Haephestus
Belden, Gnome Bard 6 of Aengus
Elfgiva, Archer 2/Cleric 2/Wizard 2 of Sehanine Moonbow
Llewelyn, Elf Cleric 6/Wizard 6 of Sehanine Moonbow
Rosaline, Half Elf (Elf lineage) Druid 7 of The Daghda
Zen, Human Monk 6 of St. Agathos

Remi, Rogue 6/Illusionist 5 of Hermes
Rolando, Rogue 4/Pacer 3 of Brandobaris Fleetfoot
Kyra, Cleric 7 of Sehanine Moonbow
Orgren, Fighter 3 of Sif

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

Game Diary:
This adventure began moments after the group defeated a legendary Tyrannosaurus Rex in some strange realm. They had barely gotten some healing done when they became dizzy, collapsed, and reawakened in a chamber with the crypt of the barbarian lord Uthuk Amon Thar awaiting them.

artist unknown

The group entered and noticed that Thar’s sarcophagus had been pulled from the wall where is legendary spear was hanging. He sat up in his black burial shroud and smiled – and the group saw vicious fangs with wisps of negative energy drifting from them like breath in a cold environment. To their immediate left they saw Thar’s two wives – now wights – with their white flesh pulled tight over their bones.

Arthur surged forward and attacked with his mighty weapon and dealt 36 points of damage (that is a large amount for a blow in an old school game)! From that first blow Thar was surprised and staggered back. Then Llewelyn stepped forward and blasted the wives with a lightning bolt, which, due to the configuration of the room and their placement, meant that they were hit with it twice as it bounced off a wall and he completely destroyed them! The villains were off to a bad start!

But Thar stepped forward to strike Arthur – and hit. Arthur failed his save and this meant that many of his recent memories and experiences were drained from him as Thar empowered himself. Arthur had gone from 7th level to the mid-point of 5th level. Still, Arthur had dealt a powerful blow and even with a boost of un-life from his attack, the other members stepped in and could focus all their attacks on the vampire. They battered him to his knees and he turned to mist to seek escape. At this point Gorgat grabbed the spear off the wall and immediately it spoke to him giving him instructions. He twirled the spear above his head and all around him sunlight burst out from it. The sun enveloped the vampiric mist of Thar and he sizzled away into oblivion, unable to find shelter and regenerate. He had been destroyed.

The Spear Predestined (as it was called), once the weapon of the barbarian lord, had become unusable by him when the Barrowmaze chaos magic seeped into him and turned him chaotic evil. But now the spear found a new worthy barbarian – Gorgat! It immediately turned him lawful good (Gorgat had originally been neutral, then the Pit of Chaos long ago turned him chaotic neutral, and now his alignment changed again!). Gorgat discovered he now had the power to slay chaotic beings, cause double damage against undead, and create sunlight in an ever growing radius. Gorgat’s power had now increased substantially!

Two players at this point had to leave (they had joined our face-to-face game via discord) and we began another adventure with some new characters rotated in with the time that remained. But I will save that for the next game diary.

What I want to finish with here is the problems with energy/level drain. When I left 5E and went to playing old school games, I was happy to bring level-drain into the game again. My thought was that some of these dangerous undead had lost their punch or their bite (so to speak; pun intended), and I was glad to bring back monsters where fighting them had consequences, and there was an actual reason to fear them again. In my view it had become far to easy to defeat monsters in 5E, for if you had been injured, the 5E approach is usually that you can just “sleep it off” with an 8 hour long rest and its as if nothing happened.

But going from the 5E “sleep it off” approach to energy draining two levels from a vampire is not really a solution, but really just a polar opposite extreme. Wanting to put challenge back into the games I run doesn’t meant that players could now lose weeks or months of adventuring effort in a single hit and missed saving throw. But there can be a middle ground (browsing through gaming forums going back 15+ years have shown that even a lot of old school gamers haven’t liked level draining, so it is not just a recent annoyance).

So, going forward in my games undead that normally level drain will have impactful but less extreme results (since my C&C games draw on material from C&C, AD&D/1E/2E, Labyrinth Lord, Basic Fantasy, etc., the way energy draining undead operate can vary depending on the adventure I am using, it also adds some nice variety and regional variants to the foes they fight). Examples of how energy draining undead will work going forward:
– Hit point loss that returns at a rate of 1 hit point per day (this may be dependent on passing a Con save). So, if a character is struck for 8 damage by a wight, it may take them 8 days to get it back (if they pass their saves). Lesser restoration can restore the hit points if the clerical caster can make a spellcaster check vs. the monsters hit dice as the challenge level (the priests are trying to defeat the negative undead power with the strength of their faith). With this example, the results of the undead battle linger with the character, but they do recover. This works with some of the lesser energy draining undead.
– Constitution drain. Each point of constitution is regained at the rate of 1 point per week of rest. Think back to books or films where a hero spends weeks recovering their vitality, stamina, and health after a vampire bite. The character won’t forget this encounter and it will take time to recover, but you don’t have to re-do weeks or months of game time. Lesser restoration could again work, but the cleric would have to make a spellcaster check to overcome the undead force within the victim and only at a rate of 1 attribute point per casting. You can recover, but it requires effort.
– Levels do get drained, but they are restored at a rate of 1 level per month. These would be for the legendary undead that level drain (the character could get a Greater Restoration to correct this, but it is a 7th level spell, so out of reach for most characters). This form of level drain will impact the character, but it doesn’t end it for them. Imagine the player brought back to their home after the adventure, lying restlessly in bed soaked in sweat slowly regaining their memories and experiences from the previous weeks and months. They may have haunting dreams at night of what they think is a fictitious dream persona only to realize that these are their own memories coming back to them across the gulf from their realm and the negative energy realm. There can be some great drama here (it is also worth mentioning that in my games when players gain levels they sometimes take time off and spend time to train to learn new languages, new professions, or gain an advantage – i.e. feat – so characters are always taking time off in my games. Thus, having a player take a couple of months off will be noticeable, but it fits in with what everyone does normally in my games).

So, those are some of the ideas I plan to test out with undead in the future. I am trying to find the balance to the “nice” 5E approach vs. the oldschool approach of needlessly tearing away weeks and months of campaign development for the sake of trying to appear “tough.” Middle ground. That is the area I plan to explore. What are your thoughts on level drain?

Castles & Crusades Diary: Barrowmaze, Session 80

Summary:
The Army of the Light is pulled from the crypts of the Barbarian Lord Uthuk Amon Thar into an alternate prehistoric reality where they battle a legendary Hydra followed by a legendary Tyrannosaurus Rex that nearly kills a PC in a single bite!

PC’s:
Gimli Hearthfire, Dwarf Berserker 6 of Odin
Wright Dawnbreaker, Human Paladin 3 of St. Luther
Edward, Human Bard 4 of St. Cecilia
Arthur, Human Oathsworn 7 of Celestian
Gorgat, Half-Orc Barbarian 6 of Haephestus
Belden, Gnome Bard 6 of Aengus
Elfgiva, Archer 2/Cleric 2/Wizard 2 of Sehanine Moonbow
Llewelyn, Elf Cleric 6/Wizard 6 of Sehanine Moonbow
Rosaline, Half Elf (Elf lineage) Druid 7 of The Daghda
Zen, Human Monk 6 of St. Agathos

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

Game Diary:
Last session the Army of the Light entered the crypt of Uthuk Amon Thar, a barbarian lord that died long before the Barrowmaze was built. Entering the tomb they fought former servants of his that had become undead and the session ended with them completing the first Trial of the Hunt by fighting and defeating cave bears and carnivorous apes.

This session began with them entering a second room where a voice boomed “Let the Second Trial of the Hunt begin!” From the walls leapt owl bears and hell hounds. Gimli summoned Odin’s Fury and this berserker ability made him immune to the hell hound’s fire. Dhekeon was able to walk on the ceiling (he has a death mask that allows spider climbing) and attacked the owl bears from above. Upon destroying these beasts a door opened and they entered a third room where they saw a 12 headed hydra on one wall and a tyrannosaurus rex on another. A voice then boomed “Let the Final Trial of the Hunt begin!” The legendary beasts shimmered, the group felt light-headed, fell to the ground, and then awoke in a warm, steamy jungle-like swamp in the middle of the night. Above them in the sky the stars seemed to rotate and eerie lights shimmered and shifted about. The elves that had twilight vision and those that had darkvision could tell there were massive, prehistoric plants all around them. The sounds of jungle and swamp assaulted their ears. Where were they?

The sky came alive in my game room to pull the players into the adventure.

I love to immerse my players in a game when I can, and when they were brought to this strange place I activated a nebula/star projector I have and turned on ambient music from my computer. I usually keep the lighting low in my games around the table, so the projections of rotating stars and nebulae showed up well on the ceiling!

The players immediately went on the hunt. While seeking out evidence of where the hydra might be, a pack of 12 velociraptors picked up their scent and charged in a pack, Edward used a special bard ability and a cacophony of sound burst around them and injuring them enough for the others to destroy them.

They next managed to track down the hydra after several hours. The battle would’ve been quite rough, but Llewelyn has a mirror of opposition and when he held it up the 12 headed legendary hydra appeared in front of the PCs throwing them all to the side. The true hydra hated this imposter and it spend most of the first two rounds attacking and destroying the heads of the mirrored hydra. That gave the PCs time to attack the legendary hydras body. But with the body dead there were still 12 heads. The only way they could reach the heads properly with non-reach melee weapons was to climb the body of the hydra, so those melee combatants climbed its body. Gimli went to the back and summoned his Blood of Tyr berserker ability and began to burn the beast, while ranged combatants fire their arrows and bolts from afar. This took it down, but the group was grateful for the duplicate that was summoned, for this legendary hydra had 12 attacks a round and could have done some lethal damage!

Looking for the T-Rex they instead found two megalosaurus. It took a while for the group to whittle down these powerful beasts and the group was worried for what might happen when they found the T-Rex!

As the group took a chance in this strange, surreal, realm to find a place to rest and sleep the third watch was caught by surprised, for in the soft, marshy, ground the legendary T-Rex was able to sneak up on the members on watch. With one swift bite it emerged from the darkness and took a mighty bite of Elfgiva. The damage from the bite clearly killed her, but the group had a card from the Deck of Dirty Tricks that allowed one attack to only do half damage. A quick vote around the table meant that the card could be used on Elfgiva. With half damage she was only at -1 hit point and thus just unconscious. The group was clearly frightened, for in the first surprise round one character escaped death by the skin of the teeth.

Initiative was rolled. I rolled low. Everyone was awake, but 2/3 didn’t have their armor on since they had been sleeping (and anyone who tries to sleep in metal armor in my game – especially in prehistoric humid swamp weather – will take heavy combat penalties) they had to fight with low armor class. Spells were cast at it, but the T-Rex passed all its saves. The players were able to estimate that this beast was in the range of 20 hit dice, so even secondary saves were probably going to succeed against them. So they swarmed in for physical attacks for all they could. They rolled well, with many attacks doing 9-14 points of damage per hit. As the combat round came to an end I managed to get another bite in with the powerful beast but I rolled low damage and that character had more hit points. The next initiative round was rolled and again the players got what they needed to mostly go before me and the powerful blows finally took the king of beasts down. The legendary T-Rex with just over 100 hit points (which is a lot for an old school monster!) was defeated!

Immediately everything around the players shimmered, and after regaining their footing and blinking a few times they found themselves back in the chamber which had the image of the hydra and T-Rex. Only now a brand new door was open. Surely now that they have completed the Trials of the Hunt the group could enter the tomb of Uthuk Amon Thar! Well, the session was at an end, so the group will find out next week!

Castles & Crusades Diary: Barrowmaze, Session 79

Summary:
1. The Army of the Light enters a series of crypts leading to Barbarian Lord Uthuk Amon Thar and begins the Trial of the Hunt!
2. I somehow miss on 14 out of 15 attacks in a single round!
3. I discuss some players growing frustration as they spent 20 minutes trying to solve a challenging puzzle in a room. Should I as the GM have intervened earlier?

PC’s:
Gimli Hearthfire, Dwarf Berserker 6 of Odin
Wright Dawnbreaker, Human Paladin 3 of St. Luther
Skuld, Elf Sorceress 4 of Odin
Sophia, Human Paladin 2 of St. Solania 
Edward, Human Bard 4 of St. Cecilia
Arthur, Human Oathsworn 7 of Celestian
Gorgat, Half-Orc Barbarian 6 of Haephestus
Belden, Gnome Bard 6 of Aengus
Elfgiva, Archer 2/Cleric 2/Wizard 2 of Sehanine Moonbow
Llewelyn, Elf Cleric 6/Wizard 6 of Sehanine Moonbow
Rosaline, Half Elf (Elf lineage) Druid 7 of The Daghda
Zen, Human Monk 6 of St. Agathos

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

Game Diary:
This session had 6 players and 12 characters (plus 1 NPC), so fully loaded, the group sought out the tomb of a barbarian lord name Thar that was buried long before the Barrowmaze was built (it was built around his tomb later).

Arriving at a bricked up wall with illustrations of a barbarian with an exotic spear made from a mysterious alloy, they broke through and entered crypts not touched for centuries. The first crypt they entered was where a half a dozen of Thar’s loyal servants were buried. Over the centuries the corruption of the Barrowmaze had crept into this area and turned them into funeral pyre zombies, which means that when these zombies (with black runes on them) are first struck they burst into flames and their flesh falls away from them. Since the group didn’t bring any rogues with them, Dhekeon was checking the doors for the group and as a result he took the main brunt of the explosive fire damage when the doors opened and the zombies were struck by an arrow which caused them all to explode.

Moving to the next crypt, Dhekeon and Gimli opened the door to find a wight who called himself “The Huntmaster” along with his two lieutenants (juju zombies). They were intelligent and spread themselves out to make it difficult for them to get hit by area of effect attacks. As the juju zombies taunted Skuld, The Huntmaster pulled forth a dagger that lit up in flames and prepared to take the adventurers on. Arthur sent out a cone of energy on the wight. Skuld had a slick solution and cast patch of frost, filling the entire crypt (the PCs were at the doorway) with a layer of frost that caused the undead a decent amount of damage, slowed their movement, and caused them to slip and fall prone if they failed saves. Rosaline cast insect swarm on The Huntmaster, further wearing him down, and when the wight did go down, the swarm moved to a juju zombie. Although the barrow wight was intelligent and had a unique magic item, the spells – especially patch of frost – rendered him unable to even get to the PCs to attempt to level drain them before he went down. The same with the juju zombies. Both they and The Huntmaster had magical Death Masks that enhanced their abilities, but the players proved to clever!

Next, they entered a crypt with a sarcophagus. The top had a carving of a great warrior lying in state with his spear and shield – was this Thar? No. It was a powerful barrow guardian! It was able to absorb some of the PCs spells with its magic resistance, but with 12 PCs it was pummeled down to stone chunks with their powerful weapons. Inside the sarcophagus were a spear and shield, Gorgat took them, pleased with the items that came from a barbarian’s crypt. Gimli then found a secret door that led into a highly decorated room.

First Trial of the Hunt. Artwork from Barrowmaze Complete.

The decorated room showed Thar fighting cave bears and carnivorous apes. The group had a map fragment and suspected that there was another door in the room, but they couldn’t see one. Most of the group filed into the room and I watched as my players came up with some truly interesting ways to test out techniques to find what they were certain was a secret exit point. Gorgat poked, prodded, and posed with his new spear and shield. Detect magic was cast. Those with slippers of spider climbing walked along the ceiling. They examined the different levels of the floor. They spent 20 minutes thoroughly examining the room. Some players were getting frustrated at this point. There was speculation that “the answer is probably something quite simple” and “this is probably going to be some kind of trial.” And even though these statements were right on the mark, they couldn’t quite figure it out. During this time, I mostly listened to the truly creative ideas they were coming up with, but I kept asking “how many of you are now in the room?” Finally, some were catching on, and one player said, “everyone, get in the room!” And yet there was hesitation – some players wanted to remain in the previous room! FINALLY, they all entered, and when that happened, the door sealed shut behind them and a magical mouth said, “The Great Uthuk Amon Thar Welcomes You, Tomb-Robber—Let the Trial of the Hunt begin!” and at this point the cave bears and apes came to life, emerged from the walls and attacked.

This could’ve been quite challenging, however, as I rolled the three attacks that each cave bear and ape got against the PCs, I rolled 15 attacks and missed on 14 of them (my highest roll was an 8, most were 2-5)! With effectively an entire round where the beasts did nothing, that effectively gave the PCs a free round of combat. Gimli entered Odin’s Fury and turned himself into a werewolf (he has a modified version of lycanthrope) and tore some of these beasts to shreds.

As the beasts lie dead before them, a door appeared from nowhere and allowed them to enter a similar room. Upon entering the beasts on this wall were owlbears and hell hounds. A mouth appeared and said “Let the Second Trial of the Hunt begin!” and that is the cliffhanger we left the adventure for next week.

GM Reflection:
Some players were a bit confused by how “the room” knew that not all of the group had entered the room – how did it “know” that some PCs were still in the other room? I had told the players at the beginning of the session that as they were entering this unique tomb that existed long before the Barrowmaze, that there seemed to be something different – semi-sentient – about the place. In the room for the first Trial of the Hunt the walls glowed with magic when a wizard cast detect magic (and no one had bothered to cast detect magic in any of the rooms prior to it). There was also the barrow guardian that was “keeping an eye” on who was entering the place.

I do worry that I allowed the players to speculate about the room for too long and that might be why there was a bit of lingering frustration afterward. It was a tough call, for although the conversations they had with each other went on for 20 minutes, there were several times when they pretty much had the answer, and I was ready to begin the battle and then they backed away and focused on another theory. I honestly did not expect it to take 20 minutes! Plus, I was enjoying the discussions (these players are really creative!). Still, I may have to move things forward a bit more quickly next time. If the players haven’t realized it yet, they will soon enough that if the room would’ve shut the doors and begun the Trial of the Hunt with some characters in the previous room, that those characters would effectively have been left out of the remaining parts of this adventure, so they should be happy they still have those characters, because they will need them!

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.