Castles & Crusades Diary: Barrowmaze, Session 118

Summary:
Ever heard of “ant zombies”? What if the fungal-infected ants were giant-sized and had also become undead? What would you do? That is what my players faced in this game session! Also, the group encounters a basilisk, but the druid avoids its gaze by using bat echolocation to “see” it!

PC’s:
Llewelyn, Elf Cleric 8/Wizard 8 of Sehanine Moonbow
Rolando, Hobbit Rogue 7/Pacer 7 of Brandobaris Fleetfoot
Jasper, Dwarf Fighter 4/Cleric 4 of Dumathoin Deepdelver
Remi, Gnome Rogue 7/Illusionist 6 of Hermes
Belden, Gnome Bard 8 of Aengus
Zen, Human Monk 10 of St. Agathos
Rosaline, Half-Elf (Elf lineage) Druid 9 of The Daghda
Magni, Dwarf Fighter 6 of Barundar Battleaxe

Game Diary:
“Ant zombies”? In real life, they are ants that have been infected and manipulated by different types of fungus. But what if ant zombies were “real”? That is, what kind of life and behavior would ants altered by fungus do when animated by the forces of undeath? That is what the Army of the Light puzzled over as they began investigating narrow 5′ x 5′ earthen tunnels created by giant ants. In this case, some of the ants had been infected by fungus growth, and when they died – or were near death – the forces of undeath and Chaos within the Barrowmaze animated these ants.

The last adventure ended with a swarm of 10 of them crawling along the ceiling, walls, and floor of these narrow earthen tunnels. Spells like dark chaos and burning hands usually took care of these ants quite quickly (the majority of the ants they encountered were more like animated exoskeletons and ended up being fragile and hollow when struck). In one larger chamber, they discovered a queen ant that was trying to squeeze out new ants. However, due to the perverse mixture of living ants, fungal infected ants, and fungal infected undead ants, she was trying to birth a type of hybrid ant that the living world – and unliving world – has never seen! When fighting the queen poor Rolando was picked up in the air with her mandibles and shook about, but others charged in and sliced and pierced her until she died, at which point Rolando had to be released from her jaws which remained locked in place even in true death.

Continuing through these tunnels they eventually found more ants that had become “zombies” from a variety of fungus infections. When I showed the players pictures of what they saw (similar to what I am displaying here) and asked if they wanted to investigate the bodies the players were clearly created out by these real-life pictures, and even though several PCs had herbalism and alchemy as their profession (I allow players in my C&C games choose professions to give their characters useful backgrounds to enhance the game), they all said, “Nah, let’s burn these things”! And another burning hands was cast. I don’t think I can blame them, the pictures I showed them were quite creepy. I was trying to take things to a new level and they guessed that trying to cure or heal a fungal infection that had been enhanced by negative undead energy along energy flow from the Tablet of Chaos might challenge even their best clerics since this was something they had never encountered before or even heard of before (I love introducing new concepts into the game – or in this case taking something that was introduced in the Barrowmaze for the GM and augmenting it!).

After clearing out the ant area, the group discovered three dwarves that had been turned into wights, and in another area there were some shriekers that awakened the presence of a basilisk! The noise of the shriekers made communicating and cast V spells impossible, but Rosaline, the druid, was used bat sense echolocation to find the location of the basilisk, and the no-nonsense Llewelyn just held his staff of the pyromancer around the corner into the room and sent out a nearly full damage fireball which destroyed everything in the room. Technically, I think the shriekers should have nullified Rosaline’s echolocation as a bat (“blinding” her with sound, effectively), but I got quite excited when the player described that he was going to have Rosaline use the echolocation to “see” where the basilisk was (her eyes were fully closed). I did have the shriekers prevent conversation as well as spells that needed V components, so I did my job in that respect, but I can’t be upset, player creativity like that needs to be rewarded, and Llewelyn was probably going to throw a fireball in the chamber no matter what.

With the tunnels now fully explored, the group returned to Ironguard Motte.

Castles & Crusades Diary: Barrowmaze, Session 116 and 117

Summary:
First, the PC’s acquire a Libram of White Law and Libram of Black Chaos which raises Ria and Zen a level each (Zen had also gained a level from the adventure, so gained two levels total!). Second, after swapping in demi-human characters for a new adventure, the group returns to a part of the Barrowmaze with winding, unfinished, 5′ wide 6′ tall tunnels and encounters undead ant exoskeletons!

PC’s Session 116:
Llewelyn, Elf Cleric 8/Wizard 8 of Sehanine Moonbow
Rolando, Hobbit Rogue 7/Pacer 7 of Brandobaris Fleetfoot
Kyron, Human Cleric 9 of Charon
Balthazar, Elf Wizard 9 of Arcanus
Gorgat, Half-Orc Barbarian 9 of Haephestus
Ria, Human Pacer 8 of Loki
Zen, Human Monk 8 of St. Agathos
Rosaline, Half-Elf (Elf lineage) Druid 9 of The Daghda

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

Game Diary:
When we left off last time the group was fighting Acolytes of Orcus that had captured the monk, Zen. This session began with them finding him and defeating the last priests of Orcus and their Gehennian Goats.

They proceeded to return to where they had left off before having to find Zen. In these new corridors, they found some bricked-up walls. Upon breaking down the first bricked-up wall, they began getting attacked by crypt knights of Nergal and a Necrolyte of Nergal surrounded himself with a globe of invulnerability. Llewelyn stepped for with his Staff of the Pyromancer and fired several fireballs into the room. A dispel magic removed much of the protective magic the Necrolyte had put in place, but he still managed to haste one of the Crypt Knights. Still, with two fireballs the enemies were weakened, and even a lightning bolt fired by the Necrolyte couldn’t slow the onslaught of the Army of the Light.

Searching the chamber revealed two locked doors. Although the fireballs has damaged the doors, there were still poison traps and one player nearly died, but a Deck of Dirty Tricks card saved them from death. Inside one room was a white and gold book, and in the other a black book, both on pedestals. After some spells were cast the group realized that one was helpful to Lawful characters, the other, Chaotic.

The group decided to break down one more bricked-up wall and this unleashed spectral undead warriors just as a new group of Acolytes of Orcus began coming down the corridor from another direction. These spectral undead could’ve done some nice damage to the PC’s, but a cleric successfully turned them, and once again, Llewelyn decided to use up more fireballs from his staff (he recharges the staff during downtime between adventures). The fireballs took care of most of the Orcus cultists, and the spectral warriors were dealt with minutes later when they returned from their period of being turned.

a spectral warrior

Upon returning to Ironguard Motte, Ria (who is a chaotic worshipper of Loki) read the Black Libram, and Zen (who is a Lawful Neutral worshipper of St. Agathos) read the White Libram, they each gained a level. Since I had given out XP for the adventure before they chose to spend a week reading the books, that meant that Zen gained a level for the recent adventures he had been on and then abruptly gained another, shooting from 8th to 10th level!). Since he now had reached high level (which I regard as 9th+ in C&C), that means that he was now being offered by Sir Kel Ironguard a place to build a monastery and get followers.

PC’s Session 117:
Llewelyn, Elf Cleric 8/Wizard 8 of Sehanine Moonbow
Rolando, Hobbit Rogue 7/Pacer 7 of Brandobaris Fleetfoot
Jasper, Dwarf Fighter 4/Cleric 4 of Duamthoin Deepdelver
Remi, Gnome Rogue 7/Illusionist 6 of Hermes
Belden, Gnome Bard 8 of Aengus
Zen, Human Monk 10 of St. Agathos
Rosaline, Half-Elf (Elf lineage) Druid 9 of The Daghda

Game Diary:
For the next adventure, the group looked at their Barrowmaze map fragments and chose to visit a location where the corridors were tunneled out by monsters and were winding 5 foot wide and 6 foot tall. So the players chose to send in their (mostly) demi-human characters. Zen is an unarmored monk, so doesn’t take much space for a human, and after that, we had two gnomes, a dwarf, a hobbit, an elf, and a half-elf.

They didn’t get very far into these narrow, tight tunnels of unworked earth before they could hear the sounds approaching and discovered giant ant exoskeletons that have been brought to undead life moving through the tunnels on the walls, ceiling, and floor toward them!

Next session we will see how they deal with this challenge!

Castles & Crusades Diary: Barrowmaze, Session 115

Summary:
Barrow Harpies attack from the skies, from sinkholes in the ground, and scatter the group with fearful screams leading the monk Zen to charge down several corridors into a room of Acolytes of Orcus and Gehennian Goats!

PC’s:
Llewelyn, Elf Cleric 8/Wizard 8 of Sehanine Moonbow
Rolando, Hobbit Rogue 7/Pacer 7 of Brandobaris Fleetfoot
Tiberius, Human Paladin 3/Cleric 7 of St. Ingrid
Balthazar, Elf Wizard 9 of Arcanus
Gorgat, Half-Orc Barbarian 9 of Haephestus
Ria, Human Pacer 7 of Loki
Zen, Human Monk 8 of St. Agathos
Rosaline, Half-Elf (Elf lineage) Druid 9 of The Daghda

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

Game Diary:
It is now springtime during the first week of March. The snow is melting and the group is returning to the Barrowmaze to explore new areas. As they approach one of the gaping openings into the Barrowmaze caused by previous sinkhole spells and fireballs/lightning bolts that caused collapse from below, they see giant vultures circling the skies. Kyron sends his arrowhawk familiar to blast several of them down with its lightning ray. This attracts the attention of other vultures as well as unique vulture-like harpies that dwell in a portion of the Barrowmaze.

The group realizes that the area of the Barrowmaze they wanted to explore is the area where the giant vultures and harpies are located and so begin a charge over the difficult terrain of spongy spring swamp toward the opening in the barrow mound that leads down into the harpy lair.

While they make the difficult slog through the swamp vultures and harpies emerge from their main collapsed barrow mound opening to attack. Llewelyn, the alert elf, hears more harpies about to emerge from a different opening to the surface partially behind them. He throws a fireball at the main location where the harpies and vultures are emerging and a wall of fire from the other sinkhole where harpies are about to emerge. The wall of flame slows down their entrance to the surface and they begin seeking new exits to the surface. This buys more time to attack the vultures that survived the fireball.

Balthazar uses his wand of wonder and this causes Dhekeon to turn invisible and he begins a charge towards the collapsed barrow mound to attack the source of these harpies.

art by thomden DeviantArt

After several rounds of combat on the Barrowmoor surface destroying harpies and fireballing harpies, Dhekeon has traveled over enough ground to leap down into the collapsed barrow mound and into the harpy lair and sounds of his fear scream can be heard as he attempts to scatter the harpies.

Others soon after reach the 20+ feet of collapsed earth that lead into the harpy lair and begin their descent in two ropes. Upon reaching the bottom the first group of people sees a half a dozen harpies and several giant vultures circling an area where presumably the invisible Dhekeon is located attacking him by diving down and flying back up to avoid the blows from his two-handed sword. Seeing the adventurers they all turn and emit horrifying screams. Saving throws are made and several PCs such as Rolando and Zen flee in opposite directions.

Now it is Balthazar’s turn to begin hurling the fireballs. Vultures and harpies are burned up after a few of these attacks, but Vultrix, the harpy leader remains horribly scorched but alive. That, however, gives Dhekeon what he needs to step forward and strike her down.

But a new challenge has arrived. Zen is a very fast-moving monk, and within a couple rounds has moved far out of range of the PC’s ability to see and hear him. After traveling several hundred feet down several corridors he arrives at a room with several Acolytes of Orcus. They knock him to the ground in his feared state (which takes him out of it), put a hood over his head, and hogtie his arms and legs. He briefly tries to break free but only partially succeeds, so he chooses to feign death. Thinking he is dead the Acolytes think to try and animate him as an undead servant and cast their version of animate dead on him! Normally this would revive a corpse, but due to their unique version, it causes him damage!

Zen now comes alive, surprising them. Using a clairaudience ability he has, he can see what is happening in the room in spite of the hood on his head. Because of fly spells that had been cast, Ria is swiftly moving down the corridor where they thought they last saw Zen run down and she enters the room where Zen is ahead of the others (who are moving more slowly). The Acolytes envelop her in darkness (which also affects Zen’s clairaudience). The leader of the Acolytes opens a secret door in the room and with a whistle calls in several Gehennian Goats. They charge in and breathe hellish fire on Zen and Ria!

The other members of the group that had been running down the hall to catch up with Zen and Ria are now about to enter. Gorgat twirls his Spear Predestined over his head and daylight emerges dispelling the area of darkness as he moves through it.

The Acolytes do not like this turn of events and cast command on Zen to surrender so they can bind him and get him out of the room before his allies arrive, but the monk has spell resistance and with two successful rolls is able to resist the spells! The Acolyte leader angrily steps forward and attempts to cause serious wounds with a touch attack, but Zen’s SR manages to brush away the negative energy as well!

So much is about to happen with the Army of the Light about to enter the room filled with Gehennian Goats and Acolytes of Orcus, but alas, the session was at an end and we had to end on a cliffhanger. Next session we will see what will result!

Castles & Crusades Diary: Barrowmaze, Session 114

Summary:
The PCs enter the Barrowmaze and loot the lair of the corrupted faun Raunus (whom they had defeated in the previous adventure), collecting some nice new magical spells that will enhance their game.

PC’s:
Llewelyn, Elf Cleric 8/Wizard 8 of Sehanine Moonbow
Gnoosh, Gnome Rogue 11/Illusionist 9 of Baravar Cloakshadow
Tiberius, Human Paladin 3/Cleric 7 of St. Ingrid
Kiaria, Human Seeker 8 of Bast
Gorgat, Half-Orc Barbarian 9 of Crom
Arthur, Human Oathsworn 9 of Celestian
Oswyn, Human Cleric 6 of St. Jasper
Rosaline, Half-Elf (Elf Heritage) Druid 9 of The Daghda
Zen, Human Monk 8 of St. Agathos

Game Diary:
In the last session, the group had defeated Raunus, a corrupted faun that had become the servant of Zuul, the chaotic god of the elements. However, the location where it was defeated revealed that it had most of its loot in the former Grand Temple of Zuul in the Barrowmaze (which the group had destroyed and through the use of a sinkhole, had opened up to the air above). During this session, they headed to the old temple.

En route to the Barrowmoor they a pack of over a dozen wolves that were tracking them down, but a moving wall of fire that encircled them discouraged the wolves and the group continue onward. After beating down some Black Skeletons (more powerful than normal skeletons), they could search the lair. It was here that they found some unique spell scrolls that were a mix of clerical, druidic, wizardly, and illusionist – Raunus once had great skills in the mystical magical arts when it came to the magical scrolls he could scribe!

cursed Faun art by Johan Bass, ArtStation

Animate statue and continual flame were unique Barrowmaze versions of clerical/wizardly spells. But then there was Blast of Cold, Bolt of Fire, Cloud of Vision, Fire Door, Pre-Selected Teleport, Mail of Smoke, and Tower of Wind (these spells can be found in the Castles & Crusades supplement Elemental Spells. Cloud of Vision creates a cloud and lightning barrier that provides 1/4 cover from those around the caster, but grants the caster, dusk vision, twilight vision, dark vision, and deepvision (Raunus had used this on the PCs during its battle with them). Mail of Smoke provides the caster with chainmail, but it is made of smoke and thus creates no encumbrance. Pre-Selected Teleport allows the caster and 10 others to travel up to 100 miles (+10/level). Since this group is swiftly entering high level (9th+) and getting their keeps, temples, etc., this 6th level wizard spell will give them the greater travel capabilities and requirements high-level characters may need. Tower of Wind is a 6th level Illusionist spell that gives high-level illusionists the ability to take a piece of their own wizard tower (which Gnoosh, for example, recently acquired and is renovating) and create a smoky duplicate that lasts 5 hours per level. It can serve as a temporary shelter and defense. Both Gnoosh and Remy are gnome rogue/illusionists, so this may become quite useful for them as they continue to level up.

While the group was in the former Grand Temple of Nergal excitedly looking over these spells, Gorgat had left his Deinonychus familiar on the Barrowmoor above them and it so happens that although their wall of fire had discouraged the wolf pack hours before, the animals had quietly had been tracking and following the group, and now that they had nearly all rappelled down from the opening above, that left a lot more creatures and persons vulnerable! Over a dozen wolves crept in, surrounded the dinosaur familiar, and attacked. Sadly for me, due to the extra powers, the Deinonychus had acquired from the Mystical Companions book, it had an AC 21 and over 50 hp, so it was hard to hit and had a lot of survival power. I missed most of my first round of attacks, and that gave the PCs the opportunity to cast fly as well as begin the rope climb to get back up and defend the creature and the few characters still with it. One clever individual cast levitate on the Deinonychus, raising it a few feet up in the air, and that meant that the trip attack the wolves could do to pull their prey to the ground and render them prone was seriously compromised. The PC’s tactics bought everyone time and soon enough had gotten up top and the wolves no longer posed a threat.

Losing a Mystical Companion familiar in C&C can be heart-wrenching for a character, the character is unable to summon another for one year and one day, and if they fail a saving throw, they may lose two levels from the trauma! The Mystical Companions book gives players both a variety of powerful options for each character class, but the losses can also be high.

Castles & Crusades Diary: Barrowmaze, Session 113

Summary:
The PCs battle Raunus, a cursed Faun that wielded the Staff of Zuul, along with his lightning elemental and thralled cave bears. The PCs were whittled down, and NPC Sir Pelinore is gutted and torn limb from limb!

PC’s:
Llewelyn, Elf Cleric 8/Wizard 8 of Sehanine Moonbow
Gnoosh, Gnome Rogue 11/Illusionist 9 of Baravar Cloakshadow
Kyron, Human Cleric 9 of Charon
Magni, Dwarf Fighter 6 of Barundar Battleaxe
Sagira, Human Cleric 6 of Horus
Roulf, Half-Orc Dragonslayer 8 of Crom
Oswyn, Cleric 6 of St. Jasper

Game Diary:
This adventure continued where the previous one left off – exploring the base of the Moon Peaks in mid-January with over a foot of snow on the ground and 0°C weather seeking out Chernobog and Koschei cultists as well as the new wielder of the Staff of Zuul. Last session they dealt with the cultists, but this session they traveled several miles further into the forest following the base of the Moon Peaks where there was a constant state of chaotic weather. The wind howled (firing a bow even at short-range had the -6 penalty equivalent of long range). Visibility was also reduced by the blowing snow. Several months before Kyron had been able to free himself of the Staff of Zuul and leave it behind in the Barrowmaze during a very busy battle, but everyone had been wondering since if someone had picked it up. Tonight they discovered who had become the new owner of it. It was some kind of corrupted Faun-like creature that called itself Raunus.

In spite of the strong weather conditions that crippled most of the characters from seeing or hearing anything, Gnoosh had a hat of telepathy and a robe of eyes so he could peel back some of the layers of reality and see things freshly and even when there was partial cover for monsters to hide due to high snow banks and pillars of snow, he could still sense their thoughts (I laid out some simple battle maps with terrain features and tokens to assist the players with my theatre of mind descriptions, see picture below).

cursed Faun art by Johan Bass, ArtStation

As the PCs entered into the blizzard area they heard roars of cave bears approaching from several sides. There was also some kind of electrical elemental crackling in the sky above (but mostly hidden by the blowing snow). And then there was Raunus. Raunus presented the PCs with some new challenges, first, through the howling wind Sagira heard the sound of music and began to feel the need to join him, but she made her save and brushed off the attempt at magical charm (he was using pan pipes). Next, through the snow a lightning bolt crackled through the air and hit Kyron (the sentient Staff of Zuul clearly wanted revenge for Kyron breaking free from its influence).

Gnoosh moved forward and got glimpses of Raunus with his unique sight, Raunus had surrounded himself with some kind of chainmail armor made of smoke (no encumbrance!) and a strange cloud crackling with electrical energy (providing him with further magical cover even with those who could see through the blizzard or had magical sight). Dispel Magic was cast at Raunus. The spell removed the smoky chainmail and electrical cloud protection, but the Staff of Zuul managed to resist the spell. The act of casting the spell and further analysis revealed that Raunus also had a natural magic resistance and had a chance of resisting any magic used against him. Some new strategies needed to be prepared.

Sagira put sanctuary on Kyron so that Raunus could not target him anymore and then cast a spell that allowed Kyron to cast spells while in sanctuary. Kyron then managed to banish the lightning elemental before it could do anything too amaging. While this was happening the cave bears had entered melee and were striking people really hard. Haste was cast on Magni and he began laying out some heavy damage to the bears with his multiple haste attacks and cleaving strike attacks. Llewelyn began casting Summon Earth Dragon (it takes several rounds to cast). Raunus, losing track of Kyron (he failed his save to sense him within the sanctuary spell) instead focused a cone of cold on Magni (and any surrounding companions).

The cave bear damage was taking its toll and the clerics had to spend several rounds throwing cure light and cure serious wounds spells on PCs to keep them up. The NPC in the adventure – Sir Pelinore, a paladin of St. Luther – was hit by two cave bear critical hits (plus a few non-critical claw and bite attacks) and his body was torn limb from limb. Even though the players had a Deck of Dirty Tricks card that could raise dead, you can’t raise dead someone who has had their limbs torn off and their chest cavity torn open with all their internal organs spilling out onto the ground!

The battle was wearing people down, but the bears were also getting cut down. Roulf saw an opening. Raunus was lurking on the top of a specially crafted snow drift 8-10 feet high, but Roulf has boots of springing and was prepared to leap toward Raunus. Magni also had fly cast on him and he began to fly toward Raunus. As this was happening Llewelyn finally finished casting Summon Earth Dragon and Raunus was shocked by the mighty beast he saw before him! He crouched down and used his natural blend ability to hide and ponder his next step.

But too much was happening, Roulf landed from his leap and attacked, Magni flew in and attacked Raunus, and then attacked the Staff of Zuul, sundering it. There was a huge explosion and the snow pillar crumbled.

With the bears, elemental, and Raunus dead, the weather subsided. The group found where the cave bear lair was and inside they found a small corner where Raunus had left a satchel behind with some exotic druid and wizard scrolls. In a belt pouch, he also had a bowl fragment. He had some notes, but no one knew sylvan or fey, so they couldn’t make much out (read magic and detect magic helped a little). They managed to work out that Raunus may have made frequent visits to this bear cave, but he actually spent his time in the long ruined – by the Army of the Light – Grand Temple of Nergal which once had the Pit of Chaos (which perhaps had corrupted Raunus) and once had a Nergal statue that held a massive bowl (the fragment Raunus had served as a material component for some kind of teleportation spell).

The adventure was now near its end, but one more thing had to be done. Barundar Battleaxe, the dwarven god the Magni worshipped had told him that if he could destroy the Staff of Zuul, Barundar would bestow a mystical companion onto him. The next morning as they left the cave, a saber-toothed cat awaited him outside. And that is where the adventure ended. The Staff of Zuul is now destroyed, but the lair of Raunus may be worth examining, for Raunus had clearly been a skillful magical creature.

Castles & Crusades Diary: Barrowmaze, Session 112

Summary:
The PCs discover secret shrines to Koschei the Deathless, destroy a strange manifestation of his, and are presented with a cryptic message/riddle they will need to solve.

PC’s:
Llewelyn, Elf Cleric 8/Wizard 8 of Sehanine Moonbow
Gnoosh, Gnome Rogue 11/Illusionist 9 of Baravar Cloakshadow
Kiaria, Human Seeker 7 Bast
Tiberius, Human Cleric 7/Paladin 3 of St. Ingrid
Kyron, Human Cleric 9 of Charon
Magni, Dwarf Fighter 6 of Barundar Battleaxe
Sagira, Human Cleric 6 of Horus
Ria, Pacer 7 of Loki
Zen, Human Monk 8 of St. Agathos
Rosaline, Half-Elf (Elf lineage) Druid 9 of The Daghda

Game Diary:
– Background:

One subplot in this campaign involved Kyron wielding the Staff of Zuul. It forced him to become his priest, and he accidentally summoned a drought that devastated the region and prevented crops from growing for most of the year followed by catastrophic storms before he found a way to release the staff (it was left abandoned in a flooded part of the Barrowmaze) and he shifted back to being a priest of Charon.

Additionally, from previous adventures, the PCs fought demons of the Slavic god Chernobog and learned about an ancient wizard (Kolduny) king named Koschei (who once ruled the lands before the Ironguards moved in and created the Duchy of Aerik) and may not have ever died. Several farmers have built secret shrines to Koschei and they have been praying for the return of their mighty lord. This has increased a lot after the “Summer of Zuul” drought and flood.

– The Present
Magni, seeking a unique mystical companion to help him in his warrior ways, and knowing he would likely be sent on a quest to acquire such a creature, prayed to his god Barundar Battleaxe on how he could please his god and receive this mystical companion (a saber-toothed cat). Barundar came to him in a dream and told him to seek out and destroy the Staff of Zuul, for its source of chaos still exists and is beginning to spread under a new wielder. If Magni destroys the Staff of Zuul he will get his mystical companion.

Other members of the Army of the Light wanted to follow up on the growing number of peasants of Slavic heritage who had been turning to Chernobog and Koshei to feel empowered again in the face of the environmental disaster and unsatisfaction with the leadership under the Viscount Kell Ironguard.

It is now mid-January (a one-month time jump from the previous session). Even though there is more than a foot of snow on the ground, the group knows paths to take that go from Ironguard Motte south to Bogtown and further south until the forests meet the Moon Peaks to seek out the hidden caves where cultists to Koshei or Chernobog might be. Rosaline, the druid, was also aware of strange shifts in the weather for that area, and Magni, through his dream from Barundar, speculated that this is where the current wielder of the Staff of Zuul might be, and so they headed out to deal with both these situations.

After an encounter with skeletons attacking from under the feet of the adventurers (they were walking over deep drifts of snow) and from a rocky plateau above them, they moved into a series of caves where they thought the Koshei cultists might be. It was clearly a place that had seen visitors on and off over the centuries with sometimes years passing with no activity. However, with the recent Zuul problems, the descendants of Koshei’s lost empire began to increase their visitation to the location.

The Army of the Light discovered a tunnel only high enough for humans to crawl through covered by some rocks. Part of the group remained in the larger chamber and a smaller group crawled through into a small 5-foot high chamber with a stone statue of a robed figure wearing a mighty crown, a long beard, and a large sword (see picture below). The people in the small room guessed that this might be a representation of Koshei from long ago. Magni slashed at the stone statuette, destroying it.

Koschei model from Miniset.net

In the larger chamber, the ground began to shake and a skeletal army emerged from the center of the room (although Kyron could tell that this creature was not undead). Llewelyn told everyone to scatter to the corner of the room and he focused a fireball at the emerging figure. While this happened Magni felt a desire to swing his sword and slay his friends. He rolled a Charisma saving throw – and passed! – and the feeling faded. After the deafening explosion of the fireball in the main chamber and after the flash of the explosion allowed normal eyesight to return, they saw that the skeletal-like being – seemingly untouched by the fireball – had descended back into the ground.

The group decided they had better leave these caves, for this was now the second time that they attacked and seemed to “defeat” a Koschei-like being yet also was aware that it did not seem to take any damage from their attacks. Kyron, a worshipper of Charon (the Greek god who carries the souls of the deceased from the world of the living to the dead), wanted to better understand more about this apparently immortal sorcerer but who was not undead. He cast divination and the player asked, “what is Koschei’s location?” Normally a grammatical mistake like that can give me as a GM some fun since the spell dictates that my response can be cryptic, or a riddle. But in fact, this was actually a very good way to phrase the question, since the PCs were beginning to think that Koschei is part of something they have not encountered, thought of, or experienced before, and may involve other parallel realms. While the players thought out loud about this I had time to formulate a response:

“What is Koschei’s location?” Kyron asked.
“chest, egg, duck, hare/hair.”

They wrote it down and gathered around over the written words to think about it some more. They were even more puzzled! Is “duck” a reference to the animal, or the need to “duck” down from something? And how was hair/hare spelled? Was it a reference to “hare” the animal, or the “hair” on our heads? (I am intentionally including both spellings of the word to keep things cryptic).

It was now approaching dusk and the players needed to find shelter in this mid-January weather where the temperature was -5°C during the day, but going back into the Koschei cult caves was not something they wanted to do. So they moved on to some new caves that were a part of a large rocky plateau. There they discovered caves where some sort of giants lived (based on their footprints in the snow). The entrance had a left and right tunnel with most activity and sound coming from the right. A circle of invisibility was cast on some of the group and they entered the cave to the right as others remained at the left entrance to watch their backs.

Coming upon these 10-foot-tall giants preparing a meal and playing some drums with their clubs leaned up against a wall, the group placed themselves between the giants and the clubs and began to attack. The surprise round they gained gave them a great advantage. Weapons were swung, the monk managed to stun a few of them, and magic missiles were fired. The giants got a few good hits in, but they were beginning to fall. The noise they made was heard by the giants in the left tunnel and that group began to move to help their friends, but the remaining members of the Army of the Light were waiting for them. Fighting in such tight quarters gave the giants a disadvantage and the group took advantage of that.

The group won and now needed to heal up. But they now had a place to rest for the night. They also wanted to search for loot! But the game session was over and that will have to be done in the next session. Also, in the next session, after the group heals up, they will be on the search for the new wielder of the Staff of Zuul. Who are they and can Magni defeat them and destroy the staff?

Castles & Crusades Diary: Barrowmaze, Session 110 & 111

Summary:
PCs engage in a sidequest to remove the petrification of a friend. They encounter:
1. Ruined Hobgoblin camps found within the borders of the Duchy of Aerik (the hobgoblins hail from the City-State of the Invincible Philosopher King, ruled by a hobgoblin Philosopher King named Thrasymachus).
2. Arrive at the Galeb Duhr settlement (who would help petrified PC to recover) and healed their pet Bulette who had become diseased.
3. The PCs make new friends drinking with Snubblefus, the leader of the Gnome settlement of Garblewood.

PC’s:
– Session 110:
Llewelyn, Elf Cleric 8/Wizard 8 of Sehanine Moonbow
Martin, Human Rogue 11 of Bacchus
Kiaria, Human Seeker 7 Bast
Belden, Gnome Bard 8 of Aengus
Roulf, Half-Orc Drachentöten (Dragonslayer) 7 of Crom
Larkin Human Warlock 1 of Ceridwen
Kyron, Human Cleric 9 of Charon
Magni, Dwarf Fighter 5 of Barundar Battleaxe
– Session 111:
Llewelyn, Elf Cleric 8/Wizard 8 of Sehanine Moonbow
Martin, Human Rogue 11 of Bacchus
Kiaria, Human Seeker 7 Bast
Belden, Gnome Bard 8 of Aengus
Roulf, Half-Orc Drachentöten (Dragonslayer) 7 of Crom
Larkin Human Warlock 1 of Ceridwen
Ria, Half-Elf (Elf lineage) Pacer 7 of Loki
Rosaline, Human Druid 9 of The Daghda

Game Diary:
– Background
In the campaign calendar, we are in December and the adventurers wanted to have one last little side-quest adventure before they settled down for winter and engaged in a several-month time jump and return to adventuring to the Barrowmaze in the spring.

Since Oswyn (human cleric 6 of St. Jasper) was petrified by a Medusa several months back, there has been a nagging desire by the player to get him brought back to normal. Since the Army of the Light had previously gone on an adventure to unpetrify their wizard Balthazar, they had made connections with some Galeb Duhr (with their pet Bulette) and through them got material to reverse the petrification.

Now, it was over a game year later and winter was arriving (there was 7 inches of snow on the ground). Traveling through the snowy forests bordering the Barrowmoor as they headed out of the Duchy of Aerik they encountered a giant skunk and a giant wolverine. In both cases, they saw evidence that hobgoblin soldiers had been killed by these creatures near their dens. However, due to the incredibly strong musk from these beasts (which was so strong that it could reduce your Strength and Constitution scores by half even if you did pass your saving throw!), they decided to return later after the area aired out.

– Galeb Duhr Lair and Diseased Bulette
After another couple of days of travel, they arrived at the area where the Galeb Duhr lived. As they searched through the snow for the entry point in the ground which would lead to the Bulette and the Galeb Duhr home, a horn broke through the surface of the earth and began heading toward them – the land shark was approaching and Rosaline with her Druid senses could tell that there was something diseased and sick about the beast that was approaching.

Bursting from the ground it landed in front of the PCs and attacked. Each claw and bite attack caused 20+ damage to those struck, additionally, the poisonous festering of disease on the bulette caused all those near it to take even more damage. The hit points of several characters were plummetting.

Fortunately, Belden is a powerful bard with 22 charisma and used his fascinate ability to calm the beast. The healers cured disease and removed the poison in the bulette’s system (it vomited it all over those in front of it and they in turn needed cure disease). With a successful suggestion, it headed back to its lair to rest. The group then headed to the Galeb Duhr lair.

art from ceallach-monster, DeviantArt

Unable to control their bulette while it was sick, the Galeb Duhr had set up a magical barrier to keep it away from them. Now with the bulette healed a Galeb Duhr went out to rebond with it as it recovered from its illness. Rosaline and some other healers went throughout the underground lair and its passages and purge the underground area of the poison. However, the Galeb Duhr also mentioned that the bulette had left their territory and had attacked a nearby gnome community and they would like to make peace with them. So the remaining members Belden, Martin, and a few others headed out to Garblewood through the underground tunnels to meet with the gnomes and broker peace.

– Snubblefus and Garbelwood
Arriving at the gnome territory (their homes are located under the roots of a massive forest of trees connected by tunnels and passageways) a gnome named Snubblefus met them. He was happy to hear that someone had taken care of the bulette problem. He was also excited to meet Belden, who he had seen perform in Ironguard Motte at the gnome tavern where he performs. Snubblefus invited them all back with him and offer them some Gnomish moonshine. This perked up Martin, who is a follower of Bacchus, the Greek god of drinking and merriment! Drinking occurred, and Martin rolled 19s and 20s when making drinking checks and drank everyone under the table. Along with using spell-like abilities given to him by Bacchus such as Mirthquake (the spell can be found in Elemental Spells and Adventurers Spellbook), he expanded the merriment and celebratory atmosphere. As a guild leader of the Light Traders Guild in Ironguard Motte, he was very pleased to have now acquired the friendship of this gnome community (his fellow guild leader is Gnoosh, a gnome rogue/illusionist).

With the bulette issue solved and new friends made with gnomes, the Army of the Light left with the blessing of the Galeb Duhr and the material they needed from them to return their friend Oswyn back from his stone state. Now they just needed to travel under snowy conditions for 4-5 days to return to Ironguard Motte.

– Hobgoblins from the City State of the Invincible Philosopher King
Arriving back at the wolverine den (which had aired out in the days since their last visit) they took time to explore its den and found a weapon and equipment cache for hobgoblin soldiers. The material included a stash of swords, axes, flails, morning stars, and shields, along with packs of rope, camping supplies, and some maps and notes.

Several bits of information stood out. First, the hobgoblins are clearly preparing for an attack (they had made an attack two years prior). Second, although they had hidden some caches of equipment closer to Ironguard Motte and Helix (2-3 days west from those villages), they seem to have set up a hidden camp in the Moon Peaks south of Ironguard Motte, and within the Moon Peaks they seem to be training Mammoths as war mounts as they winter in the mountains.

Traveling to the giant skunk lair they encountered an Ogre war party that seemed to intentionally seek out the giant skunk lair. Kiaria was riding on her trained Griffon and little Belden, who was along for the ride, cast hallucinatory terrain to distract them from the skunk lair. Llewelyn, using his giant bat familiar, cast distracting ghost sound cantrip to lure several of the ogres away. Further spellcasting and suggestions caused the ogress leader to question the loyalty of her underlings that stepped away to explore the ghost sounds and she began to attack them. The players were thrilled to have gotten the ogres to attack each other as they watched from the air or through their familiars. With most of the ogres now dead, the group moved in to take on the last few. After killing the last few ogres the Army of the Light explored the skunk den and found more cache of weapons and equipment.

Some people might have noticed references to the “City-State of the Invincible Philosopher King.” This refers to two major ideas – (i) the City-State of the Invincible Overlord (CSIO) from Judges Guild. The hobgoblin kingdom is located far to the east of the Duchy of Aerik in my world far into the Borderlands, and if at some point this hobgoblin kingdom is ever sought out, the CSIO will serve as its foundation. (ii) the reference to “Philosopher King” refers to Plato’s Republic. Indeed, the Philosopher King ruler of the CSIO in my world is named Thrasymachus, which refers to an interlocutor in Plato’s Republic who argues that “justice is the advantage of the stronger” (338c) and that “injustice, is more masterly than justice'” (344c). The hobgoblins in these city-states worship Greek and Roman gods (the rulers worship more philosophical Greek figures, and the soldiers worship more militaristic Roman gods). If my players ever want to take this subplot and expand upon it, there is a lot of potential for future game-play (this would be done after we complete the Barrowmaze campaign).

So, as the Army of the Light returns to Ironguard Motte as more snow falls (more than a foot has now fallen in the area in the last week), the group has some new things to ponder.

Castles & Crusades Diary: Barrowmaze, Session 108 & 109

Summary:
The Army of the Light is hit hard! Roulf dies from a poison metallic snake bite! The two dwarves Jasper and Magni lose a point of Strength from fighting a Wraith, and Wright loses a level from the Wraith.

PC’s:
– Session 108:
Llewelyn, Elf Cleric 8/Wizard 8 of Sehanine Moonbow
Rolando, Hobbit Rogue 6/Pacer 6 of Brandobaris Fleetfoot
Kiaria, Human Seeker 7 Bast
Belden, Gnome Bard 7 of Aengus
Sir Arthur, Human Oathsworn 9 of Celestian
Roulf, Half-Orc Drachentöten (Dragonslayer) 7 of Crom
Edward, Human Bard 7 of St. Cecelia
Kyron, Human Cleric 9 of Charon
Balthazar, Elf/Mongrelman Wizard 8 of Arcanus
– Session 109:
Martin, Human Rogue 10 of Bacchus
Llewelyn, Elf Cleric 8/Wizard 8 of Sehanine Moonbow
Wright Dawnbreaker, Human Paladin 5 of St. Luther
Magni, Dwarf Fighter 5 of Barundar Battleaxe
Remy, Gnome Rogue 6/Illusionist 6 of Hermes
Kiaria, Human Seeker 7 Bast
Jasper, Dwarf Fighter 4/Cleric 4 of Dumathoin Deepdelver
Roulf, Half-Orc Drachentöten (Dragonslayer) 7 of Crom

Game Diary:
Once again, “life” meant I fell behind a week in my game diaries so I have to do two in one.

In Session 108 the group was continuing for a third session in the Barrowmaze in late October. The session did not possess any earth-shattering drama. The group finished their 3rd session in a row in the Barrowmaze so simply finished exploring some rooms and then headed back to Irongaurd Motte. Several characters were rotated out of the game for level-up abilities (i.e. C&C Advantages) and downtime abilities. They also needed to recover from all the undead encounters they had (in the Barrowmaze whenever you have had undead encounters equal to your Wisdom score you might go insane, and it takes one week per undead encounter to get your mental equilibrium back).

So, for Session 109 the players brought in some neglected characters to make one more big push before winter hits the Duchy of Aerik. Since nothing bad had happened to the Army of the Light in quite a while I think confidence was high.

Entering a new area of the dungeon the PCs entered a room with curtains covering little alcoves. At each alcove, someone would push the tapestry out of the way to see what was behind and it was Roulf who disturbed a metallic cobra. It bit him and he failed his saving throw. The poison was very strong and with that failure, Roulf fell to the ground dead! That did stun a few people, but at least we are at the point in the campaign where there are now clerics like Kyron who are high enough level to Raise Dead, so they put Roulf out of the way in a quiet room to retrieve later to bring back to town for resurrection.

The rooms they were exploring were very close to where they suspected the Tablet of Chaos is located and some had come to see the waves of Chaos that would drift through the environment around them causing an uneasy existential feeling in the air. They were soon to discover that a lot of things they thought they could predict would be a little off.

They entered several crypts which had mummies in them, but they felled them efficiently.

Another room had only two entry points, one was a one-way door and the other was a secret door but it pivoted vertically at waist level for a medium-sized being, so those of human size had to crouch down to enter. Players knew to be cautious and as two dwarves Jasper and Magni entered (they were smaller so could come and go more quickly than the medium-sized players) a shimmering incorporeal undead rose from a sarcophagus in front of them. Their dwarven deepvision also allowed them to see other parts of this large room and they could see incorporeal undead rising from at least two other sarcophagi. Llewellyn is an accomplished cleric and his insight revealed that they were related to Wraiths, which can be quite deadly if they happen to have the traditional level-drain ability.

artwork from Pathfinder 2

Jasper and Magni bravely fought the wraith, but incorporeal undead are unique in that your armor doesn’t protect you as much against their touch attacks. And they did indeed get touched by these undead and even though they succeeded their saves, their Strength scores went down by one point. Another nice bit of fun for GMs is that incorporeal undead can pass through solid surfaces, so those in the 3rd and 4th rank in the marching order that thought they were safe were caught by surprise when one of the wraiths burst through a wall and attacked them at the back of the group! Wright fought bravely but when he was struck and failed his saving throw he went from 5th to 4th level. In a previous adventure, Remy had acquired a 4th level fighter follower after pulling a card from a Deck of Many Things and he was also struck by the wraith, failed his save, and fell to 3rd level.

With no place to retreat (and the Army of the Light never retreats!) they eventually destroyed the undead and plundered their tomb.

By the end of this game session, they had also managed to fight some unique Barrow Wights which clearly had more than your normal wight undead powers, ghasts, and some juju zombies.

We ended the session still in the Barrowmaze, but with Roulf dead, Jasper and Magni with -1 on Strength, and Wright and NPC down a level, the Army of the Light took a few good hits. Next session they will complete what they want to do in this section of the Barrowmaze and then most likely head back to Ironguard Motte to see if they can raise dead and restore attribute points to those who experienced losses. And then, do they do a time jump over the harsh winter period and do some downtime activities, or will they risk adventuring during the dead of winter?

Burnout and a Shift in Game Focus

In the last 6 months, my feelings about RPG gaming have shifted. In 2018 after decades of running D&D I shifted to Castles & Crusades and since then have run 200 game sessions for around 100 people at game stores, online, and in my home. And although my home game is more exciting than ever, in other areas I have pretty much burned out. I thought I might explain some of my thoughts and my change in feeling and focus because it’s possible others are experiencing this as well, and if nothing else, let this serve as a form of amusement for you of the strange life of RPG excess I have lived (and why I have probably deserved the burnout I now have). In this post I will discuss:
– Experiences of gaming in-person and online.
– Buying far too many RPG products.
– The gaming community.

Changing Game Practices – In-person and Online
Getting new players can be exciting and give you as a GM new ideas and personalities to work with to inspire you in the campaigns you run. But if things are always in flux, this can just wear you down since you never get any stability.

2018.
In 2018 when I quit D&D after running it since the 80s, but none of my decades-long players wanted to leave 5E for C&C so I recruited from the D&D players I had met in Adventurers League. We gamed in my apartment and we all experienced something fresh and new.

2019.
In 2019 I moved into my own house (I am single and don’t have children, so the house is mine to do what I want!) and I set up my own gaming room, but virtually none of the players I had recruited in 2018 wanted to travel the extra 10 minutes to where my new house was, so I had to recruit all over again, this time from my job and by beginning to run weekly games at local game stores. By the end of the year, I had gathered a new group of players.

2020.
In 2020 Covid arrived and FLGS gaming ended and we all moved online. Although the home game group I had built up from work and game stores moved online (well, only about half of them did), none of the people who exclusively gamed at game stores wanted to shift to online gaming. So then I had to recruit weekly from the Troll Lord Games (TLG) Discord server to get games going.

2021.
In 2021 we all moved back to in-person gaming. That was great for my home game crew for during the online games in 2020 I had finally gotten a steady and regular group of players. However, my second online C&C game that formed on Discord in 2020 abruptly ended.

2022.
So now I find myself in 2022 with just my home game group, all of the nearly 100 people from the game stores and online are gone. Ironically, TLG is developing an Organised Play named Endless Worlds (which I had a tiny role in helping develop). This could be a great way to encourage and assist players and GMs who run games at game stores or at conventions, as well as provide some nice swag for playing and running games. But I can’t help but feel that this is almost too late for me (if only this had been in place a few years ago). I have had to effectively start from scratch every single year for the last four years in recruiting players to game with. I am just bloody well worn out. It takes a LOT of effort to sit at a table at a game store with a sign and try and tempt players to try a new game that isn’t D&D 5E. It is a constant sales pitch. Trying to get people to join your game online is a never-ending process (along with all the new technology you have to learn for the game to run smoothly). And when all the work you do for a year effectively comes to nothing the following year, and this happens over and over again, you wonder if it is worth it anymore. Perhaps I just tried to do too much. Running 200 games for 100 people takes a lot of time and effort (and money). But let me move on to the next topic, which also seems to suggest I tried to do – or spend – too much.

RPG Products – Owning too much
Back in 2007 I took a little break from D&D (I had lost interest in the rules-heavy 3E) and I sold a bunch of my 70s-90s D&D since from my perspective I didn’t see D&D ever going back to the 20th-century style of play again and I was unaware of the OSR (e.g. by 2007 C&C had already been out for three years). I returned to TTRPG gaming for D&D 5E in 2014 and in 2018 when I left D&D again for C&C I was now well aware of the OSR and made a decision to repurchase a lot of the old products I had sold off as well as get a hold of the new cool products that were being crowdfunded on Kickstarter and Indiegogo. I went crazy.

When I become interested in something I go FULL-IN. You probably already gathered that from the 200 games I ran in-person and online. When I fell in love with C&C I went and bought everything, and I mean EVERYTHING. I own all of Troll Lord Games C&C products that are in print and got some out-of-print material from eBay and Noble Knight. More than that, from my previous experiences with players being reluctant to try a new game and invest money in it, I ended up purchasing 20 Player Handbooks, 25 of the TLG Codex books (e.g. Slavorum, Germania, Nordica, Celtarum, etc, since I want to bring in more medieval realism), extra Adventurer Backpacks and Mystical Companions. This meant that every player at my table at home and at game stores had books to use and browse. Many did eventually buy the books off me after they played a few games and realized they liked the game, but for others, I did end up giving some away and a few are still untouched. Once again, you can clearly see that I went overboard with C&C. In hindsight I didn’t need ALL of TLG’s products, and I sure as heck didn’t need to buy multiple copies of books for my players. I know they appreciated it, but who else engages in this madness? I wanted to be helpful to those that took time out of their busy lives to try this game system and game with me, but most of those players are now long gone.

Then there are all the other products I bought. C&C is compatible with virtually ALL D&D-type games. That is one of its great strengths. I initially bought some of the classic Basic D&D and AD&D products. Then I got hooked on Kickstarter. The problems I have with that I have discussed in this post, so there is no need to rehash that at length again. All I will say is that as I look at my endless shelves of products I have grown weary of yet another white or wood-grain box set, or yet another orange-spine book. The OSR has some really creative people in it, but fully immersing myself in the OSR meant more than just running 200 C&C games, I have also played in over 200 games at game stores and at conventions, and I’m tired. I have run or played in 400+ games in the last few years. It just kind of feels like it is all the same.

I also don’t need to buy any more products since I have enough to last me the rest of my life. One thing I probably should do more of is write-up reviews of all the RPGs I received from Indiegogo and Kickstarter (I stopped all crowdfunding at the end of 2021). Indeed, before I go on to the last section of this post, take a look at the photos of the products I own (BTW, I did miss a few). Do I really need to buy anymore? No. Although these games are great for reference or consultation to broaden my possibilities as a GM, am I ever going to use all of these products? No. Again, I went overboard; I never needed to buy this much stuff.

The Gaming Community – Conventions, MeWe, Discord
Gaming at conventions and at game stores can be a lot of fun because we are all coming together to game. Gaming communities online are more hit-and-miss. I deleted Facebook/Twitter several years ago and have never regretted it. When Google+ shut down most people moved to MeWe. I really enjoyed that platform, it retained some of that comfortable and respectful Google+ feel. From late 2018 when I joined MeWe until late 2020 I only blocked 2 people. It was great. Unfortunately, there was an influx of (angry) people leaving Facebook after the 2020 election didn’t go their way and some of them flowed into MeWe and brought their politics and anger with them. I felt a mood change. From late 2020 until early 2021 I was blocking several people a week (it subsided after early 2021, but that may have just been because I had blocked the most vocal angry people and no longer saw their posts/comments).

One other thing happened in 2020 and that was the shift to online gaming on Discord. Everyone suddenly had to have a Discord. MeWe had some great communities for Hyperborea, Necrotic Gnome/OSE, and Basic Fantasy (to name just a few), and they all decided to move to Discord or their forums, and a lot of great discussions on MeWe in these areas faded.

As for Discord, if you need to run an online game, it is a great platform. For 18 months I ran two C&C campaigns more than once a week on the TLG Discord server (which is really active). However, Discord is a chat platform. People go there to talk. And talk. And talk. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of great conversations taking place, but with a platform like that, you almost have to be on it 24 hours a day, because if you step away for just 20 minutes you may miss a conversation where you could’ve learned something more by asking a question or added something valuable yourself to the discussion (I frequently have felt the Fear of Missing Out on the TLG Discord since there are SO many conversations that I could’ve benefitted from if I had been a part of them, and so many questions I could’ve answered since I own all TLG products and have run hundreds of games, but I want to have a life outside of the online world and the Discord chat platform doesn’t work for someone like myself that wants a conversation that takes place and develops over days). And if you are not engaged and posting all the time on Discord you are simply forgotten. That’s really frustrating for me. It is not a social media platform that does what I am interested in. I did enjoy my 18 months running games on Discord, but my gaming style requires standing up, animatedly moving about, using props and art in the room I am in, using sound effects from hidden speakers, and reading people’s body language to gauge their interest and make changes when necessary. Just sitting in a chair and clicking a mouse to move tokens on a VTT with everyone else sitting in a chair staring at a screen (assuming they even turned their webcam on) is almost the definition for me of tedium. I might occasionally run some one-off games on the platform and will also play in one-off games, but I don’t plan to run another campaign on Discord. My strengths as a GM are in-person, dynamic interaction. Online gaming can’t reproduce that.

Final Thoughts
So what am I doing these days? My home game is stronger than ever. My players now own a substantial number of the C&C books (carrying them into my house requires several sturdy re-usable carrier bags or book totes). They haven’t spent the thousands of dollars I have on C&C, but they have spent enough that they won’t be quitting the game anytime soon! With all the FLGS and online games I’ve been have run come and go like the seasons, this group I think I can count on. We now head towards the end of a 3-year Barrowmaze campaign with an Aufstrag campaign to follow (which might itself last 2-3 years). I want to commit myself more to these players who have stood by me. I also own more gaming products than some game stores, so I do enjoy reading through some of them to see how I might use them. And I hope to write up more game reviews on these products so that others can decide whether it is right for them.

However, beyond that, I am stepping away from TTRPG gaming. I normally attend three gaming conventions a year (Con of the North – near where I live, Gary Con, and Gamehole). I skipped Con of the North and GaryCon this year and I am unsure of Gamehole this autumn. I am no longer feeling the satisfaction of running public games anymore. It feels to me these days as if all the time and money I have spent on public gaming and outreach was just flushed away.

I am getting back into reading academic work in Philosophy and Medieval studies. I am academically trained in philosophy and history and have continually researched in these areas to add historical realism to my games and for simply personal pleasure, but now I am (re)joining philosophical and historical organizations, beginning to receive their academic journals, and getting notifications of upcoming conferences. If I don’t go to Gamehole this autumn it may be because there’s a philosophy conference taking place roughly a week before it that I am considering attending. I don’t know if that will be the direction I go in, for I have been out of academia for a few years now and have no intention of formally returning (assuming I even could). Still, spending a few weekends a year with scholars discussing some obscure aspect of metaphysics, or the medieval manorial system is becoming more appealing to me.

The last two years of Covid have affected us all in some way. I think a lot of us have found our steering mechanism of life to be in need of repair but once we fix it we aren’t sure which direction we want to go in.

Okay, this has been one hell of a long blog post, so if you have made it to the end, congratulations! You now deserve a rest, so go off and do something fruitful. That’s what I plan to do. I just wish I knew what it might be…

Castles & Crusades Diary: Barrowmaze, Session 107

Summary:
Players love having their characters drink from mysterious pools and wells. Usually, you can only drink a limited number of times from these resources, but what if you could drink more than once? In this adventure, the PCs drank from a mysterious well multiple times to gain 15 points to their prime class attribute scores but lost 21 points in other attributes!

PC’s:
Llewelyn, Elf Cleric 8/Wizard 8 of Sehanine Moonbow
Rolando, Hobbit Rogue 6/Pacer 6 of Brandobaris Fleetfoot
Kiaria, Human Seeker 7 Bast
Belden, Gnome Bard 7 of Aengus
Sir Arthur, Human Oathsworn 9 of Celestian
Roulf, Half-Orc Drachentöten (Dragonslayer) 7 of Crom
Edward, Human Bard 7 of St. Cecelia
Kyron, Human Cleric 9 of Charon
Balthazar, Elf/Mongrelman Wizard 8 of Arcanus

Game Diary:
The players are in their third session in a row in the Barrowmaze and keep plowing ahead instead of leaving. It may be because whenever a new foray into the Barrowmaze begins I let the players randomly choose three cards from the Deck of Dirty Tricks and they can use those cards until either they are gone, or until they decide they are done in the Barrowmaze and head back to town to rest and get XP. Since one of the cards they randomly picked three sessions ago was “Raise Dead” they know they can avoid character death in the party so this is making them bolder than usual and they would rather use than lose it (once cards are used I put them aside and they don’t re-enter the deck until we have gone through all the cards at which point they are all put together again, shuffled, and then we do it all over again, so the players know that this is the only chance to use the card for a while).

In the last session, the players were exploring what the players have been called the “finger crypts” since there are four pointing north like fingers. They are small, only being 3-4 feet wide and 20 feet deep. The small characters Rolando (hobbit) and Belden (gnome) had spearheaded these explorations. After feeling a deep chill inside that was drifting into them from the east (coming from an unknown area that is not in any map fragments they have found), the wiser members in the group said this signified that they could be entering an area beyond their skill level, perhaps where the Tablet of Chaos is located. They chose to finish exploring the last two finger crypts and then change direction and explore other areas in the Barrowmaze.

However, the last finger crypt they explored was behind a sealed door. Breaking in, Rolando and Belden found a well with a bucket, winch, and urn next to it. You know adventurers, they had to taste the water in the well! They brought some water out to drink and I had the players who drank it roll some dice. After a few attempts, the players worked out that when they drank the water their prime attribute associated with their class went up by one (so Kyron the cleric gained a Wisdom point and Balthazar the wizard gained a point of Intelligence). However, they would also lose 1-2 points in other attributes (they couldn’t decide out how that part worked). What they had worked out was that a drink raised their primary class attribute one point and they would lose 1-2 in another attribute. They also discovered that they could do it more than once! Now the players had to decide how much they would gamble with this – how far were they going to push it?

Rolando, Llewellyn, Kiaria, and Edward chose not to drink from the well. The others did drink – multiple times. Here is what happened:
– Kyron (Cleric): drank four times for +4 to his Wisdom score, but received -1 Dex, -3 Str, and -1 Con. His Dex was lowered enough that his AC went down by one, however, his Wisdom is now over 20.
– Balthazar (Wizard): drank five times for +5 to his Intelligence score, but received -3 Con and -4 Dex. His Con loss resulted in his HP going from 27 to 19. Wizards have low HP under normal circumstances, but 19 HP at 8th level will be noticeable, on the other hand, his Intelligence is now over 20.
– Arthur (Oathsworn): drank twice for +2 Charisma and -1 Con and -2 Str. He now has a supernatural Charisma, but his Strength went low enough that his bonuses to hit and damage were lowered by one.
– Roulf (Dragonslayer): drank twice for +2 Dexterity, but a -3 to Strength, lowering his hit and damage.
– Belden (Bard): drank twice for +2 Cha, -1 Dex, -2 Str. He now has a negative to his hit and damage rolls, but his Charisma is above 20.

We now have more than three characters with prime class attributes over 20 (giving the wizard/cleric bonus 4th level spells, and the bard can fascinate and charm extra times per day simply due to his extraordinary charisma, and obviously for these characters any attribute checks or saves based on those supernatural attributes are significantly better). They have made themselves noticeably more powerful in their character class, but moving forward we will see whether the reduced AC, HP and their ability to hit and damage in melee will end up hurting them. For those that drank more than three times (Kyron and Balthazar) I told them the alteration to their mind and body meant they needed immediate rest to adjust to these transformations. They found an empty room and took a rest through the night. During the night those on watch sensed and heard the presence of Gehennian Goats (demonic beasts of Orcus), but they luckily kept their distance, and combat was avoided.

The next morning, having partially recovered from their supernatural transformations, they headed north to enter some forgotten crypts used by the Necromancers of Nergal. In recent months the Army of the Light had utterly destroyed the Grand Temple of Nergal, their leadership, their research areas and library, a sleeping undead army, and barracks. Except for a few lone stragglers that have fled, the Necromancers of Nergal have been pretty thoroughly defeated.

Still, there are some old crypts left and the group found one of these areas. Entering a large room they saw pillar statues of warriors and mysterious, eerie, flickering candle lights that moved through the air tempting those that saw them. Rolando and Roulf became hypnotized by the lights and due to magic items and Advantages (C&C feats) they could both move very quickly and lept/ran to the source, which was into a room where a new type of undead closed the door behind them and attacked. Outside the smaller room in the large chamber, two pillars came to life as Barrow Guardians and from three doors two groups of mummies and one group of juju zombies came pouring out. The adventurers were being attacked from three directions with one portion of the group isolated and under a trance while being attacked.

Fortunately, we had several clerics in the group and at 8th and 9th level, Llewellyn and Kyron were powerful enough to turn some of the undead and manage the remaining threat. Balthazar made it to where Rolando and Roulf were (and these two were fortunate since my attack rolls against them were dismal, so they faired well considering they were helpless and by themselves). What would’ve been a much more deadly encounter a few sessions previously proved more successful.

The group still has the raise dead card, so I suspect the group will continue to plow on the next session!