10 July 2024

Trampier and Amthor inducted into the Gaming Hall of Fame

There is something called “The Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts and Design Hall of Fame.” It has existed since 1974 and includes many important game designers and artists. 

Since the Hall of Fame encompasses contributors to wargames, card games, and boardgames, as well as role-playing games, a lot of the people listed at the AAGAD Hall of Fame website are unfamiliar to me. But within the RPG world, there are many true legends.

In 2024, two people who have had a lot of influence on me during the many decades I’ve been involved in RPGs were inducted.

David Trampier – my favourite FRPG artist of all time (rivalled only by Angus McBride) – is now a member of the AAGAD Hall of Fame.

And Terry Amthor – a key contributor to the Middle-earth Roleplaying, Rolemaster, and Shadow World lines of Iron Crown Enterprises (Amthor was the primary author and creative force behind Shadow World, to which he contributed until his death) – also is now a member. (My current Ukrasia campaign draws heavily upon an early work of his, The Court of Ardor.)

Sadly, both Trampier and Amthor have passed away. But their contributions live on, and I am profoundly grateful to both of them for what they accomplished. 

26 June 2024

Mythras Imperative Contest

From the recent Design Mechanism newsletter:
We’re excited to launch a brand-new competition for all Mythras enthusiasts and budding creators! 

The TDM ORC Imperative Contest celebrates the ORC open license, which includes the Mythras Imperative and Classic Fantasy Imperative rules released under it. Entrants are invited to send a submission between 2,000 and 10,000 words that creatively utilizes the Imperative rules and one or more assets (a descriptive paragraph, an image, or a map) that we provide.

The submission can be whatever you can imagine: a scenario, a setting module, a mini-campaign, or anything in-between. Entrants can pick any genre, any time period, or create something completely new and unique.

To view all the requirements, check out the Submissions Pack.

What do you stand to gain? Let’s talk about the prizes!

First Prize gives the winner a finished document they can immediately distribute for sale if you choose. This means that the TDM Production Team takes your submission, edits, proofreads, crafts a layout, and equips it with interior and cover art for the winner’s idea to make it a reality.

Those who manage second and third places will get various levels of artwork that help get you on your path to completion of your project.

The TDM ORC Imperative Competition is now open! You must be a Newsletter subscriber to enter with a chance of winning one of these glorious prizes! You can subscribe to the Newsletter on our website https://thedesignmechanism.com/

So, get your thinking caps on, dig out those old notebooks, and brainstorm with your gaming group! 

Here’s your chance to create some fantastic material using Mythras Imperative and the ORC License that gets that professional touch.

I’ll add that submissions due by 30 September 2024. Good luck to all who enter!

Somewhat related, this post does a good job of comparing Mythras and Basic Roleplaying (versions of both of which are now available with the ORC license).

24 June 2024

Dungeons and Dragons 2024: the Twee Edition

This picture of the Dungeon Master’s “tracking sheets” for the forthcoming 2024 version of Dungeons and Dragons (edition 5.5?) pretty much confirms that this incarnation of the game is not for me:

A happy cute pink beholder adorning a “Campaign Expectations” sheet, which includes “Potentially Sensitive Elements” and “Player Hopes and Expectations.” Ugh.

Okay, to be fair, not all the new art is “twee” like this.  

But as I’ve said before here, I'm done with the current version of D&D. I had a fun time running a 5th edition D&D campaign – but that was despite the system not because of it. (And I ended up using some significant house rules to make it tolerable.) However, I will give 5e credit for being a lot less tedious than 3e.

Thankfully, neither of my two gaming groups is that interested in playing 5e (or 5.5e or whatever the 2024 “revision” ends up being called) D&D. One group includes a few people who actively dislike D&D (all versions) while the other group includes people who like 5e but are happy to play other things instead. So, unless I end up running some contemporary D&D as a favour for someone outside of my regular gaming groups in the future, I’m done with the Wizards of the Coast versions of the game. 

I haven’t bought a new WotC D&D book in a few years now, as their quality seemed to decline sometime after Ghosts of Saltmarsh. The 2024 revisions look pointless to me. I understand the need to make $$$, but the changes (to my knowledge) move the game even further away from what I want.

(I'll confess that I’m mildly curious to see what is done with the “World of Greyhawk” in the Dungeon Master’s Guide. But I certainly don't "need" any more Greyhawk material.)

Anyhow, if you want some more information about the new versions of the core rulebooks, this article provides an overview (it includes some of the new art as well).

16 June 2024

Against the Court of Urdor – Part 3

Triumvir Town, Dawnfell, and the Crystal Glade

        [Kiren]                                    [Einar]

February 1000 2AH (Second Age of Humanity): 1st – 7th. 
(A recap of the adventure so far.)

In Part 1 of this tale, our protagonistsEinar Quicksilver, the Green Elf scout of Koronande, and Kiren Hammerstone, the Dwarf animist of the Halls of Pale Steel – were compelled by the malevolent Tantûraki wizard Zepheus to infiltrate the barrow of the Green Elf Prince Berethil. The ghost of Berethil, however, helped to free the adventurers from Zepheus’s control. In return, Einar and Kiren vowed to return the White Crown of northern Taaliraan to the prince’s sister, Queen Blàithnaid. Doing so, Berethil believes, will release him from his ghostly existence, as he had cravenly stolen the crown an eon ago, thereby greatly weakening his sister during the Great War that ended the last Age.

In Part 2, as Einar and Kiren fled the spider-infested jungle of the Weblands and entered the Cursed Lands, they encountered some members of the Company of the Morningstar: the Kirani ranger Karos, the Hathorian wizard Evrix, and the Tantûraki scout Zephyr. After helping the trio in their hunt for Zepheus by informing them of the whereabouts of the necromancer’s camp – and receiving valuable information and aid in return – Einar and Kiren travelled to the small settlement of Korlax’s Haven. There they agreed to help the bard Blarth recover his silver harp from a vile band of redcaps. Alas, poor Blarth was slain by a ghoul in the process, but the heroes freed two prisoners from the redcaps: the doughty half-orc Krumm and the flighty pixie Neriss. They also found Blarth’s silver harp and magical “pouch of loaves.” 

[The Cursed Lands]

February 1000 2AH: the 8th and 9th days.

Kiren, Einar, Krumm, and Neriss spend the day travelling to Korlax’s Haven, arriving in the small settlement in the late afternoon. En route, Einar notices a large black bird following the party from a distance. At the Storm’s End Inn, Old Wakkim mentions that Blarth’s family lives in the town of Misty Vale to the north and suggests that the dead bard’s silver harp be returned to them. 

The next day Krumm thanks Einar and Kiren for his liberation, telling them that they will “always have a friend in Thraz,” and departs. The Blue Elf herbalist Aethelia is saddened to learn of Blarth’s death and (like Wakkim) encourages the duo to go to Misty Vale to inform his family and return the harp. Einar asks Aethelia if she knows anything about Queen Blàithnaid. In addition to confirming the information that the two had gained from the Company of the Morning Star a few days earlier, she tells them that after creating the Lake of Mists by opening a gate to Faerie – and thereby destroying much of the assembled armies of both her foes and allies – the Queen created the Young Treelands to the north of her former realm (thereby creating a new barrier against Tantûrak).  

Kiren asks Aethelia if she knows anything about the ancient Court of Urdor. The Blue Elf shares what information she has: the Court served the Night Elf Queen Everekka during the Era of the Elves. This, however, is not new information for the party. Neriss, however, mentions that many of her people – along with numerous gnomes, merrows, and other Fey folk – fled to the distant island of Awallon to avoid the war amongst the elves over 3700 years ago.

[Neriss the Pixie]

Later that day the party departs Korlax’s Haven and travels north to Castle Triumvir. (The fortress was once known as “Castle Gloomfist” and held by orcish brigands. Two decades ago, though, an Arsilonian mercenary leader from the northern isle of Aldena – known only as “Lord Triumvir” – drove away the brutes with his soldiers and claimed the surrounding lands for himself.) 

There is a decent inn that lies in the shadow of the castle – The Moon’s Song – where the three travellers stay for the night. Neriss continues to pass herself off as a young Green Elf in order to avoid drawing unwanted attention.

February 1000 2AH: the 10th day.

[Triumvir Town]

Kiren, Einer, and Neriss reach the small hamlet of Triumvir Town before noon. They go to the Evening Feast inn, which is run by the friendly halfling innkeeper Marda “Fair Voice” and her five nieces and nephews. Also at the inn is a Kirani traveller, Jabbo “Far Walker,” who warns the travellers of a band of brigands, “the Dread Wolves,” that operate in the region near Dawnfell. Jabbo also mentions that many of the gorcrows of Urdor once served as the “Eyes of the Autarch” back during the First Age of Humanity. Perhaps they now serve the “Magician” of Tantûrak or his servant Zepheus?

[Jabbo the "Far Walker"]

Einar and Kiren meet with the reclusive Arsilonian loremaster Xerric later in the afternoon. The Green Elf makes a favourable impression, and a fruitful discussion ensues. Like his former employer Lord Triumvir, Xerric hails from the northern isle of Aldena and holds no loyalty or fondness for Tantûrak – indeed, he expresses disgust at the mention of Zepheus. He confirms that many gorcrows do indeed serve the Autarch, or his followers like the Magician and Zepheus, and often are dispatched to investigate disturbances in the Ethereal winds caused by the use of magic. 

[Xerric the Loremaster]

When asked about Queen Blàithnaid, Xerric restates many things already known by the duo. However, he mentions a strange island in the midst of the Lake of Mists and suggests that the Queen may dwell there. The island, he warns, is said to have a strange will of its own and thwarts anyone who attempts to land on it. Einar and Kiren thank the loremaster for his hospitality and assistance, and promise to inform him of anything they learn about Blàithnaid or the Lake of Mists in the future.

Returning to the Evening Feast inn, the travellers enjoy a fine meal. Marda flirts playfully with the slightly astonished Kiren

[Marda "Fair Voice"]

February 1000 2AH: the 11th and 12th days.

The party reaches the small village of Dawnfell in the late afternoon of the 11th. Two guards wish to prevent entry by Einar and Neriss, both of whom they identify as Green Elves, but Kiren manages to convince them to let them in. The three travellers then proceed to the village’s only inn, the Staff of Hathor. There they are greeted warmly by the Hathorian innkeeper Olga, who shows them to a private booth. She tells them that the village’s leader, Brynjar, has been hostile towards the Green Elves of the nearby Crystal Glade since the death of his daughter years ago. Olga also mentions that the village artifact – the “Dawnchime” – recently has been stolen. The Dawnchime helps keep the village safe from the trolls that infest the nearby jungle, the Wilder Woods. Apparently, the sound of the chime causes great agony to any trolls who hear it. Now that it is lost, the villagers fear an attack by the savage brutes any day. Brynjar blames the nearby elves for the theft. Olga implores the party to speak with the folk of the Crystal Glade to help resolve the situation. She also mentions the threat posed by the Dread Wolves and the presence of many menacing gorcrows in the region over the past year.

The next morning the party is rudely awoken by a band of guardsmen, who apprehend the party and bring them before Brynjar. The leader or “Thane” of Dawnfell is a grim looking Hathorian of middle years. He takes Neriss prisoner and demands that Einar and Kiren recover the Dawnchime for the village. Brynjar is convinced that the artifact is in the possession of the “Emerald Wardens” of the Crystal Glade, and hopes that Einar, as a fellow Green Elf, will be able to obtain the item from them. Distressed, the duo agrees to the Thane’s terms, and depart for the jungle. 


The two heroes begin to follow the trail that runs through the Wilder Woods, connecting Dawnfell to the Tantûraki village of Xarith on the coast. Einar soon spots a cabin to the south. They investigate and find it to be abandoned. It looks like it was once the home of a wood and plant gatherer. Inside, Einar finds a sapphire broach in the shape of a butterfly; it is clearly of elvish craftsmanship. The two then locate the wood gatherer’s map, although Kiren is stung by some wasps while doing so. Several locations are indicated on the map, including the Crystal Glade and the base of the Dread Wolves. It would seem that the wood gatherer disappeared recently – perhaps he was a victim of the bandits or some unwholesome beast? Worried, the adventurers return to the path.

By noon the two adventurers are approached by two Green Elf warriors. One of them, Ferris, agrees to take them to the Crystal Glade. The village is protected by a high wall of interwoven tree branches, roots, and trunks. A bright blue brook flows through the centre. Most of the people live high within the trees – much as do the folk of Einar’s hometown of Tauronde. One especially impressive tree, which has no dwellings upon it, is an Elbrinth tree, which is composed of mystical white wood and widely revered by the elvish people. (The last time Einar had seen such a tree was upon the burial mound of Prince Berethil, where two stood in silent vigil.)


The adventurers meet with the leader of the Emerald Wardens, Nuriel. This is the first time that Einar has met his cousin – during his fifty years of life, he had not ventured far beyond the borderlands of Koronande, and Nuriel had not journeyed to Tauronde during that time. But Einer knew well Nuriel’s mother, Yvenna. His aunt was a dear friend of his parents and had been an important scholar in Tauronde for many centuries. The initial reason for the duo’s journey to the Cursed Lands was so that Einar could deliver news of Yvenna’s assassination – by means of a mysterious poison – to her daughter, as well as his aunt’s cherished jade necklace.   

Greatly saddened by the news of her mother’s death, Nuriel thanks Einar and tells the adventurers that they should consider the Crystal Glade a safe haven for the rest of their days. She gives them accommodation in one of the many tree dwellings of the village. After news of Yvenna’s death spreads throughout the settlement, a beautiful, melancholic dirge is played by the Green Elves.

Nuriel informs the duo that the folk of the Crystal Glade have no knowledge of the whereabouts of the Dawnchime. She also provides the elvish perspective on why Brynjar loathes the Emerald Wardens so intensely: twenty-five years ago, Brynjar’s daughter Brynna was accidentally slain by one of the elvish hunters, Elva. The Thane subsequently had Elva tried and executed. Ever since that tragic incident, the folk of Dawnfell have been estranged from the Green Elves who were once their allies.

Over some refreshment, Nuriel informs Einar and Kiren of more recent troubles. The Crystal Glade had been protected for many years by a magical gem called the “Dragon’s Eye.” Recently, though, a band of vile trolls assaulted the village and stole the gem from the “Wyrdwood Tree” – the Elbrinth tree that the duo had noticed earlier. The Wyrdwood Tree had protected the Dragon’s Eye since its arrival in the Crystal Glade. Somehow, though, the trolls had broken through the village’s root wall and knew exactly where to find the gem. While most of the trolls were slain by the Emerald Wardens, one did manage to flee into the woods with the Dragon’s Eye, as he was assisted by a large murder of gorcrows that blocked any immediate pursuit. Without the magical gem, the village lies vulnerable to the vampires and other malevolent entities that dwell within the terrible Wilder Woods.

The two heroes spend the rest of the afternoon looking about the village. They encounter a strange creature named “Grizzy” helping the Green Elves repair the damage caused by the trolls to the root wall and Wyrdwood Tree. Grizzy (whose proper name turns out to be “Grissilfildun”) explains that he is a gnome animist. After a brief chat, it is discovered that Grizzy is from the same Fey enclave as Neriss. Upon learning of his pixie friend’s imprisonment, the gnome becomes quite upset and worried. He implores the adventurers to liberate Neriss and bring her to him. He also agrees to share some of his animist lore with Kiren. The two short bearded animists get along quite well.

["Grizzy" the Gnome]

The pair meet Nuriel for dinner. Einar and Kiren relate in greater detail their many tribulations since leaving Tauronde. Nuriel recalls Prince Berethil, as she was herself a young soldier during the war that ended the last Age. She expresses great bitterness towards the prince for his treachery – but is impressed by the duo’s quest to return the crown to Queen Blàithnaid. She also is grateful to Einar for investigating the poison that caused her mother’s death. 

Nuriel tells Einar and Kiren that the elves have tracked the troll who stole the Dragon’s Eye to a nearby ruin, which is known as the “Broken Temple.” The Emerald Wardens are wary of entering it, as it is a place that was once holy to the Tantûraki, and the Green Elves find human religious buildings unsettling. Nonetheless, they know that the troll is still there, most likely with some allies.   

The three infer that there must be some connection between the recent thefts of the Dragon’s Eye and the Dawnchime. Perhaps the Dread Wolves are cooperating with the trolls? 

They interrogate a Dread Wolf brigand that had recently been imprisoned by the Emerald Wardens. Using his magic, Kiren senses that the brigand – a Kirani woman named “Agandis” – radiates darkness. She is in league with servants of the Darkmaster!

After some persuasion and negotiation, Agandis agrees to reveal everything she knows, so long as Nuriel vows to let her go. Nuriel agrees, but with certain conditions. The prisoner will be freed only once both the Dragon’s Eye and Dawnchime have been recovered, and must take an oath to never engage in banditry or serve the forces of darkness again. 

With promises exchanged, Agandis explains that a deal had been arranged between the Dread Wolves and the trolls. The bandits agreed to steal the Dawnchime from Dawnfell. One of their minions – a farmer named Hamrick Tallowfoot – serves as a spy within the village. The trolls desire the Dawnchime because it prevents them from being able to attack the village. In return, the trolls agreed to steal the Dragon’s Eye. The gem is sought by the employer of the Dread Wolves – the dread necromancer Zepheus! It seems that the Tantûraki wizard has long sought the ancient elvish artifact. Agandis then tells the adventures about the various traps located around the Dread Wolves’ camp, and an enchanted pendant used by their leader, Vargus, to ignite fires. 

Exhausted by a long day of travel, investigation, and interrogation, the duo retire to their tree platform for the night.


The master page for the World of Ukrasia and this campaign is here.

The “Court of Urdor” setting (including the central part of the island) draws upon – but significantly modifies – ICE’s 1981 Court of Ardor campaign module by Terry Amthor. The map of the “Cursed Lands” is from the module’s main map, by Peter Fenlon. (I added a number of new locations to the “Cursed Lands” map – it should be obvious which ones are not part of the original map.)

The map of Triumvir Town is from the ICE campaign module, The Cloudlords of Tanara, by Terry Amthor. (I added the labels.) 

The picture of Einar is from the Neverwinter Nights CRPG (as is the picture of Marda). The picture of Kiren is from the Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition CRPG. The pictures of Jabbo and Xerric are from a “mod” for the BGEE CRPG. 

The picture of Brynjar is the Silence of Dawnfell adventure. The picture of “Grizzy” is from the Secrets of the Golden Throne rules and campaign book. Both books are for the Against the Darkmaster RPG, and published by Open Ended Games. 

Queen Blàithnaid is from the Against the Darkmaster core book. Nuriel, Brynjar, and other materials concerning Dawnfell and the Crystal Glade are from the Silence of Dawnfell adventure for VsD. I have extensively modfied both adventures for this setting and campaign. The map of the Dawnfell region is my own but draws upon the version found in the book.

06 June 2024

Against the Witch-King: Chapter 2

Strange Events in Bree

The first chapter of our saga covered the initial events involving the newly formed fellowship of Almarian (a Dúnadan ranger fom Fornost), Arpet (a Lossadan shaman from the northern village of Mulkan), Doffa (Arpet’s brother), Celebrin (a Sinda Elf of Lindon), and Turuk Larr (a Dwarven sage from the Blue Mountains). 

[Central Arthedain and Breeland]

These events involved: 
  • The receipt of advice from the Fornost scholar (and uncle of Almarian) Thindparv
  • The acquisition of vital information from the eccentric seer Telemnar (who dwells in the northern observatory of Ro-Malborn); 
  • Measures taken by the party against the treacherous Riverman Wulfgli and his bandit allies; 
  • The observation of many malevolent gorcrows; 
  • And a brief interaction with a mysterious albino Dúnadan, who seemed determined to obtain Almarian’s legendary spear “Orcspite” (but instead departed Fornost with a different polearm, a copy of Orcspite, crafted by Turuk).

21 Narbeleth (October) 1964

The adventurers rest and confer at the manor of Thindparv. They decide to help Arpet and Doffa on their quest by first travelling to Bree. There, they plan to consult with the Hobbit Tobric about the location of the great oak and the “tree halflings.” Turuk recalls that he has a Hobbit friend in Bree, Coldomac Tunnelly, and also that there is an “autumn fair” in the town at this time of the year. Almarian recalls that her friend, the ranger Helvorn, frequents Bree when he is not in the wilds scouting about, hunting brigands and orcs. 

Almarian, Arpet, and Celebrin visit the home of Nenereth (Almarian’s mother). There they meet once again Ohtar and his family. The refugees from Arthedain’s troubled borderland thank Almarian and Nenereth for their benevolence. 

The Lossoth brothers obtain some silver coins from Thindparv in exchange for a few high-quality northern furs. The party then does some shopping in Fornost. Arpet and Doffa obtain suitable “southern” clothing, as well as some other equipment. Doffa purchases a superior dagger. Turuk purchases some crafting equipment (an anvil, a set of tongs, a small hammer, and the like). Celebrin acquires a number of minor useful items.

The fellowship then enjoys a pleasant lunch back at Thindparv’s manor. The scholar gives his niece a book: A Speaker’s Guide to Kuduk. He suggests that it may help her communicate with the “wild Hobbits” they seek. While the Hobbits who now dwell in Bree and the Shire speak “Westron” and have largely forgotten about “Kuduk,” their less civilized cousins may still rely on the tongue of their nomadic ancestors. 

After lunch the party departs Fornost and heads south on the Greenway towards Bree. They have a cart – filled with the Lossoth brothers’ furs, Turuk’s crafting equipment, and other sundries – pulled by a stoic pony. 

22nd – 24th Narbeleth 1964

During the journey south to Bree takes the following things happen:
  • Turuk finds some helpful herbs (“Tulaxar”) growing alongside the road. The blue leaves are added to the party’s supplies.
  • The adventurers encounter a band of Hobbit pipe-weed traders from Bree: Nimbo, Sammy, and Fredigar Brooksigh. They are on their way to Fornost. Doffa and Arpet are introduced to the halflings’ leaf and seem to enjoy it. Arpet confirms to himself that the beings in his dream were indeed Hobbits.
  • The party stops in the towns Ringmet and Galadhal. In the latter town they stay at The Green Stone inn. There is a small forest to the west of the town. Iffly the innkeeper recalls that, according to legend, the area was once a grand woodland, until the trees were felled by the Númenóreans during the late Second Age.
  • The fellowship notices a murder of gorcrows following them. Almarian instructs her goshawk Seerwing to try to scare them away. The gorcrows disperse to the east and south. Towards the evening of the 24th, though, a great black hawk is spotted tracking the party for a few hours. Almarian broods. 

25th Narbeleth 1964

Shortly after noon, the party reaches the gates to the town of Bree. In response to a query from Almarian, the gate wardens report that they do not recall seeing any “albino travellers” passing through the town in recent days.

While at the King’s Rest Inn, Almarian and Celebrin notice that a rather slovenly, shifty looking Breelander seems to be observing them. They learn that his name is Hal Broadleaf, and that he has an unwholesome reputation throughout Breeland. Celebrin follows him out of the inn later. Hal goes to the hedge wall at the edge of the town and seems to do something there before leaving. Approaching the hedge wall afterwards, the Elf cannot figure out what Hal had been up to.

[Central Bree]

Doffa and Arpet wander around the town, asking any Hobbits they see whether they know of Tobric. The Lossoth brothers learn that Tobric lives not in Bree but in the nearby hamlet of Staddle. They then go to the King’s Rest Inn and join Almarian and Celebrin there.

Later, the ranger Helvorn enters the inn, limping badly. Almarian learns from her old friend that he recently was wounded by a warg. The vile beasts have become more common of late. The ranger tells Almarian, Celebrin, Doffa, and Arpet that great murders of crows have been seen in the Chetwood over the past several months. Almarian asks Helvorn if he has encountered an albino Dúnadan recently; the ranger recalls meeting one only a couple of days ago on the Great East Road. The Dúnadan had been travelling with a bundle of weapons and claimed that he was en route to Tharbad. Arpet asks Helvorn if he knows anything about “tree Hobbits.” The ranger recalls a tale of a tribe of wandering halflings who settled in a great tree centuries ago after the fall of Rhudaur, but knows nothing more.

Turuk purchases a wooden box from Duffy Nobwood, the town carpenter, and learns where his old friend Coldomac lives. He then goes to the smial (“Hobbit hole”) of Coldomac Tunnelly. The halfling – who had visited Nan-i-Naugrim years ago – greets Turuk warmly, and insists that he and his friends stay with him in his smial. The Hobbit is alarmingly excited by the prospect of hosting the fellowship.

[Coldomac Tunnelly]

The party enjoys a delicious meal at Coldomac’s smial. The Hobbit is quite enthusiastic and verbose. While he wears on some of the fellowship’s nerves, they cannot deny the little fellow’s generosity. 

26th Narbeleth 1964

Coldomac accompanies the party to Staddle; there he introduces them to his “old friend” Tobric Staddleson

After swearing an oath not to reveal the location of the great tree, Tobric tells the adventurers that he knows where it is and indicates its location on their map. He had spent some time there years ago. The great tree is known as the “Durmast Oak,” and the Hobbits who live there are Fallohides who chose not to settle in Bree in the fifteenth century. Tobric explains that they do not speak Westron, but instead still employ the ancient halfling tongue of Kuduk, although a few know Sindarin as well, since they trade occasionally with Elves and Dúnadain. Their leader is Smorgo Petraeas and there are many skilled craftsmen and herbalists in their small community. 

Drawing upon A Speaker’s Guide to Kuduk (given to her by Thindparv), Almarian tries to say a few words in Kuduk. Tobric is so upset by her mispronunciations that he agrees to accompany the party on their journey. He decides that it has been too long since he has travelled, and he has fond memories of the tree folk. The party agrees to return to Staddle in two days; at that time, they will begin their journey east. 

[Tobric Staddleson]

Coldomac also expresses interest in taking part in the endeavour, but the party diplomatically dissuades him from doing so. The fellowship returns to Bree with their earnest host.

In the late afternoon, Almarian, Doffa, and Apret decide to investigate the reports of large numbers of gorcrows in the Chetwood. They travel to the woodland hamlet of Archet. There they stay in a hunting lodge for the night. The local hunter Briff tells them that both wolves and crows have become quite common in the Chetwood over the past year.

Back in Bree, Celebrin and Turuk go to the Autumn Fair at the top of Bree Hill. There the duo purchase some nice knives and a bronze tea set – gifts for their host, Coldomac

Celebrin is encouraged by the local youths – who are amazed to see a real Elf at their fair – to take part in the archery contest. The skilled Sinda wins first place, and is awarded with a silver tankard, which he comes to oddly cherish. While the contest takes place, Turuk notices a scoundrel picking the pockets of the audience. He confronts the thief – Braith “the Tinker” – and earns the gratitude of the locals for doing so. The dwarf and elf subsequently are fêted in the King’s Rest Inn before they retire for the night in Coldomac’s smial.

27th Narbeleth 1964

A light, cool rain falls upon the Chetwood as Almarian, Doffa, and Arpet head into the forest. They notice a gloomy murder of crows to the north. Doffa climbs up a tree and succeeds (outstandingly so!) in surveying the region. He spots a clearing nearby, in the middle of which stands a massive monolith. The Lossoth scout also notices two figures near the monolith, standing beside a sputtering fire.

The trio stealthily approach the clearing from the east. They observe the two figures while concealed in the verge. One is tall Dúnadan woman wearing a beautiful black cloak. She examines the monolith and observes the many crows flying above her with manifest approval. The other figure is a rough looking Riverman. His eyes scan the edges of the clearing – but he does not spot the adventurers.

After a few hours, Hal Broadleaf arrives and speaks with the two figures. Following a brief discussion, the three collect some things and leave to the west. The trio of Almarian, Doffa, and Arpet follow the trio of Hal, the Dúnadan woman, and the Riverman thug. Eventually the group leaves the Chetwood and starts travelling south towards Bree. The woman removes her black cloak and puts on an Arthedan travelling cloak. Almarian, Doffa, and Arpet return to Archet – in order to pick up some pies from Dorit the baker – and then travel back to Bree.

Meanwhile, in Coldomac’s smial, Celebrin finds a remarkably helpful tome in the library. It describes a great battle at the place where the rivers Mitheithel and Bruinen meet! The battle took place during the terrible War of the Elves and Sauron in the middle of the Second Age. Following the fall of Eregion, Elrond led refugees north. But during this retreat, Elvish forces clashed with pursuing orcs at the southern edge of what is now known as the “Angle” (En Egladil). There, many noble Elvish warriors fell, before the orcs were distracted by Dwarvish forces out of Khazad-Dûm. Perhaps Celebrin’s dreams concern one of these warriors?

Celebrin also learns from a different book in Coldomac’s surprisingly impressive library that the tribe of Fallohides that settled in the great Durmast Oak centuries ago interacted with Elves of Rivendell. Perhaps these relations continue to this day?

Turuk’s research is less successful, although he does find some notes on the ancient Kuduk language.

That evening, the entire group enjoys several excellent pies. Coldomac is especially delighted by the tasty treats – and is grateful to Celebrin and Turuk for the tea set and knives. Afterwards, the fellowship goes to the King’s Rest Inn for some further drinking. There they spy Hal Broadleaf – but not the two suspicious individuals from the Chetwood monolith. Almarian asks the innkeeper, Ham Rushy, to keep an eye out for the tall Dúnadan woman. 

28th Narbeleth 1964

The company enjoys a fine breakfast served by Coldomac. Almarian charts a possible route to the Durmast Oak. She then speaks with the ranger Helvorn, updating him about the suspicious meeting in the Chetwood the previous day.

After bidding their excitable host Coldomac farewell, the fellowship journeys to Staddle with their cart and pony. There they meet up with Tobric and head out on the next part of their journey.

[Eastern Arthedain and northern Rhudaur]


All maps are from the ICE Middle-earth modules Rangers of the North and Bree. The beautiful regional maps are all by Peter Fenlon. The picture of the Bree guard is by Charles Peale (from the Bree module). The pictures of Coldomac and Tobric are from a “mod” of the Baldur’s Gate CRPG (unfortunately, I don’t know the artists).

Link: The master-page for the “Against the Witch-King” campaign.

17 May 2024

Greyhawk to appear in the 2024 Dungeon Master’s Guide

Eight months ago, I wrapped up a campaign set in Gary Gygax’s version of the World of Greyhawk (specifically, the version found in the 1983 box set).* I used the 5th edition rules for Dungeons and Dragons for the campaign (initially the rules more or less “as written” in the 2014 books; later, the Into the Unknown variant of 5e D&D, with some house rules for sake of continuity and the Greyhawk setting). Although the campaign was great fun, I realized about halfway through it that I did not care at all for the 5th edition rules, and hence concluded the campaign much earlier than I had originally planned (although it still ended in a satisfying way, I think). 

Since I don’t plan to run the current version of Dungeons and Dragons ever again, I have no interest in the “updated” 2024 editions of the core books. (According to Wizards of the Coast, this is not a “new edition,” so it’s not “6th edition” – I expect that it eventually will be called something like “edition 5.5,” but we’ll see.) In fact, I’m planning on selling off (or giving away) much of my 5e collection.

But to my surprise, the 2024 version of the Dungeon Master’s Guide will include an overview of the “World of Greyhawk” – along with a poster with maps of the Flannaes (the main region described in previous versions of the setting) and the City of Greyhawk. I had thought that we would not see any “new” version of the World of Greyhawk for the current incarnation of D&D (beyond adventures like those included in Ghosts of Saltmarsh and Tales of the Yawning Portal). However, it looks like I was wrong.

I still doubt that I’ll get the 2024 DMG. But now I’m not ruling it out entirely – it depends on how good the new Greyhawk material is. If the maps are nice, and the overview of the setting is interesting, perhaps I’ll consider picking up the book. 

* I have yet to write up the final installments of the campaign. I hope to do this over the next month or so. I also plan to write a post reflecting on the entire experience. Stay tuned!

09 May 2024

The Hunt for Gollum

When I learned last year that Warner Bros would be coming out with some new movies set in Middle-earth, I was pretty sceptical. But I am now cautiously optimistic, as the first new film, tentatively entitled The Hunt for Gollum, will star and be directed by Andy Serkis and be produced by Peter Jackson.

I was disappointed overall by season one of The Rings of Power – and, based on some purported leaks, am dreading season two. But with The War of the Rohirrim coming out later this year, and The Hunt for Gollum in 2026, perhaps all is not lost for cinematic Middle-earth.

03 May 2024

Swords and Wizardry Kickstarter: 3 days left

I’ve been swamped with work lately – hence no posts at all in April (which, I think, is the first time that I’ve missed an entire month since starting this blog almost fifteen years ago). Because of this, I almost missed the current Swords and Wizardry kickstarter. It includes optional supplemental rules for S&W, a book of new monsters, an adventure, and a referee's screen. There are only 3 days left!

Swords and Wizardry has a special place in my heart. It is what inspired me to start this blog many moons ago – specifically, I wanted to post my house rules online so that other people could check them out. (Some of those rules later were incorporated into Crypts and Things.)

So I like to support S&W whenever I can. Even though I’m not playing or running it right now, I very likely will do so again in the future. And the updated version of the rules is excellent!

25 March 2024

It’s Tolkien Reading Day

I recently started rereading The Silmarillion. I had last read it over two decades ago. I liked it then but I’m really enjoying it this time! Despite being a huge Tolkien fan, this is the first book by him that I’ve read or re-read since The Children of Hurin (which I read in 2017). 

After I finish The Silmarillion, I think I’ll keep going! I’ll read at least The Fall of Númenor and parts of Unfinished Tales. Perhaps I'll read parts of Beren and Lúthien and The Fall of Gondolin before The Fall of Númenor (most likely I’ll focus on the final or most complete versions of those tales). 

Happy Fall of Barad-dûr day!

20 March 2024

Darkmaster plans for 2024

The cunning Darkmasters at Open Ended Games have some nefarious plans for 2024: 
  • Firstly, there's the physical version of Secrets of the Golden Throne, which will come to our backers first, and then in POD on DrivethruRPG. 
  • Later this year (probably this summer) we'll have the Against the Darkmaster GM's Guide, a companion to the Player's Handbook, containing all of the GM-facing material from the Core Rules, revised and updated, and then some! 
  • Through the year we'll also be releasing several new adventures: at least one of them will be a full-length scenario (about the length of the Silence of Dawnfell), while the others will be shorter, ready to run adventures, meant to be played in one or two sessions. 
  • Finally, we’re compiling something you have been asking for a long time, a great Against the Darkmaster Bestiary, packed with new creatures and opponents! No release date for this yet, but we'll talk more about it in the future.
(From the announcement at the VsD Discord site.)

I’ve been reading Secrets of the Golden Throne and am now about halfway through it. It’s excellent. Since I had an “early view” PDF a few months ago (because I backed the kickstarter), I’ve already incorporated some of the new rules and other material in my campaign, namely, the new kins (a pixie NPC and a gnome NPC have appeared in my “Court of Urdor” campaign) and spell lores. 

Additional rules, monsters, and spells aside, the campaign itself looks properly epic. I’ve reserved a place for the “Isle of Awallon” in my “Ukrasia” setting for future use. I’m really looking forward to finally getting the physical book!

I’m delighted that a Game Master’s Guide will be available in the near future. The book with the complete rules is glorious – but unfortunately it cannot be made available via print-on-demand. (I assume that this is because of its massive size.) For reasons not entirely clear to me, it is no longer possible to order physical copies of the core rulebook outside of the US. Since a Player’s Handbook has been available in POD and PDF for a couple of years now (at DTRPG), once the GM’s Guide is available as well, the complete rules will be readily available in physical form to gamers throughout the world. 

The announcement of the Bestiary was a pleasant surprise. I am very excited to see what is ultimately included in it. Eventually, the “classic trio” – (i) a player’s book, (ii) a GM’s book, and (iii) a monster book – will be available for VsD!

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I'm a Canadian political philosopher who lives primarily in Toronto but teaches in Milwaukee (sometimes in person, sometimes online).