28 February 2022

Greyhawk Adventurers: The Quixotic Quartet

After a two-year hiatus, I finally restarted my “Greyhawk Classics” campaign earlier this month. There are only two players (“MK” and “JC”). Both are friends from my undergraduate days at the University of Toronto. Each is playing two characters. We started playing online in fall 2019 (I was in Milwaukee at the time, MK in Toronto, and JC in Montreal). After we completed a couple of adventures, the world fell apart thanks to the pandemic. I relocated and moved my work online. Because my workload exploded, I suspended the campaign. I thought we’d back at it after few months, but alas it took much longer…

It feels good to get this game going again. It’s my first campaign running “proper” 5e D&D, and I’m curious to see how it plays over the long haul. (I’ve run a few “one shots” of 5e and completed an Adventures in Middle-earth campaign [AiME is based on 5e but replaces many core elements, e.g., the entire magic system]. But I haven't run a campaign using the “core” 5e rules yet.) I hope to run some classic adventures that have been converted to 5e by Goodman Games and WotC: The Temple of Elemental Evil, White Plume Mountain, and perhaps Expedition to the Barrier Peaks (maybe even more if we somehow manage to keep things going).

I think that the characters are all pretty interesting (yes, I’m biased). In case anyone might enjoy reading about them, I’ve posted their basic information and backgrounds below. (They all recently reached level 3.)



ALTHAEA

Female – High Elf – Wizard (Abjurer) – Level 3

Str 10 / Dex 14 / Con 15 / Int 18 / Wis 11 / Cha 11 

Background:    Sage

Alignment:      Chaotic Good

Faith:               Corellon Larethian

Personality Traits

    Althaea is obsessed with learning everything she can from others, and she loves to share her knowledge with anyone who might use it to promote freedom and protect life. 

Ideals

    Knowledge is the path to improving oneself—and the world.

Bonds

    When a good person dies, a priceless library is destroyed: hence the need to defend all good beings against harm. The wizard School of Abjuration aids one in this task of protection and preservation.

Flaws

    Althaea is inquisitive to the point of excessive nosiness. This trait can annoy and even anger others, especially those who distrust elves. Althaea enjoys using her magic to vex and embarrass the self-satisfied and the proud.

Backstory

    From her home in the city of Tringlee (capital of the Duchy of Ulek), Althaea spent the first century of her life obsessively learning everything she could. She was the assistant to the librarian of her high elven community, and pestered all the elven and human elders, and every traveller she encountered, with endless questions. She learned the basics of magic by becoming a first-level wizard. For an elf, Althaea took an unusual interest in the history, language, and lore of the dwarves. She cultivated good relations with the small number of dwarves who lived or passed through Tringlee, and she became proficient in the dwarvish tongue (she speaks it with a pronounced elvish accent that dwarves find hilariously odd, but her Dwarvish is nonetheless comprehensible and highly fluent). 

    Having exhausted most of the major sources of learning within her home city, Althaea has decided to acquire more knowledge by heading into the wider world. If she can also do some good and live through memorable adventures during her time abroad, so much the better!  

    Althaea's full name is Althaea Amastacia (her family name means "Starflower" in Elvish) 

Other information

    Althaea's great-grandfather is the legendary 'Sapphire Wizard' of Tringlee. Ancient even for an elf (800+ years old), the Sapphire Wizard has dwelt in his mysterious blue tower in the city for as long as anyone can remember. In living memory, the wizard has let no one enter the tower. He does venture out occasionally, however, mainly for rare family events or scholarly talks at the city's College of Arcane Arts. Althaea has met him a few times; the wizard was aloof but not unfriendly towards her. Much to her surprise, shortly before she left on her current journey, she received a package from the Sapphire Wizard. It contained a blank page of vellum. Attached to it was a small note with the following message in Elvish: "Please keep this page with you, dear granddaughter. Look at it on occasion. Someday it may contain an important message for you!"

    Althaea has a letter from a now-deceased human sage of Niole Dra named Urlik. The sage had visited Tringlee many times and had got along well with Althaea. Among Ulrik's areas of expertise was Elvish history and lore. But one branch of the Elves of Oerth remained a mystery to him: the Olvenfolk of the Valley of the Mage, the people known as the "Valley Elves." In his letter to Althaea, Urlik asks whether she knows anything about the folk of the Valley: are they High or Sylvan Elves (or perhaps Wild Elves)? Or are they an entirely separate branch of Elvenkind? Why do they dwell separate from the other Elves of the world—indeed, why are they hostile to all outsiders? And why do they follow the human wizard who claims dominion over the vale? Much to her surprise, none of the scholars or sages of Tringlee knew the answers to these questions. Since the letter has piqued her curiosity, Althaea has travelled west to learn more of the mysterious Valley Elves. However, the Valley of the Mage is famous for being a dangerous place, from which few if any have returned. So, Althaea is reluctant to journey there until she acquires much more magical lore and power. 

    At the Shrine of Istus near Fort Endurance, Althaea asked the following question: “Why do the Valley Elves follow the human wizard who claims dominion over the Vale?” She received the following answer from the holy altar: “The Wizard of the Vale is neither human, elf, nor half-elf, and the elves of the Vale follow him because he gave them succour in their exile.”

 

ERIK

Male – Mountain Dwarf – Fighter (Battle Master) – Level 3

Str 17 / Dex 13 / Con 16 / Int 10 / Wis 06 / Cha 12 

Background:    Entertainer (gladiatorial wrestler)

Alignment:      Chaotic good

Faith:               Hanseath (dwarven god of war, booze, carousing, chaos, strength, and travel)

Personality Traits

    Erik enjoys showing off his strength and entertaining others through his fighting skills. When not wildly drunk, he is a pleasant companion, fond of merriment, friendship, tall tales, plentiful ale, and good cheer. 

Ideals

    We should always be loyal to friends, but in other respects it's best not to take life too seriously. The world needs more fun, laughter, rough-housing, and drink!

Bonds

    I'll lay down my life for my buddies.

Flaws

    My erratic nature, lack of wisdom, and intense passion for alcohol get me into frequent trouble. 

Backstory

    Because of his frequent drunken binges and his refusal to conform to the serious and disciplined norms of dwarven folk, Erik was recently sentenced to a twenty-year exile from his dwarven clan (the Ironfists) in the Lortmil Mountains. Some of the clan elders favoured stripping him of his clan name and sentencing him to perpetual exile, but Erik's rough charm, his popularity as a show fighter, and the influence of his father and grandfather saved him from this draconian penalty.

    Before his exile, Erik largely made his living as a showman/prizefighter. He also gained some experience in the craft of brewing (his father, grandfather, and uncle are respected brewers of fine-quality ales, whose fame has spread across the dwarven clans of the Lortmil Mountains). 

Other

    Given his difficulties with drink, Erik has sought information concerning the location of a legendary dwarven "Helm of Sobriety." These helms, when worn by dwarves, immediately clear minds of fogginess and dismiss all effects of alcohol and other poisons. A dozen such helms were said to have been created by the great mountain dwarf smith Laga Vulin in ages past. At the holy altar of the Shrine of Istus near Fort Endurance, Erik was told that "an unclaimed Helm of Laga Vulin lies magically hidden and locked within the Tomb of Serten, champion of St. Cuthbert, who fell in the battle of Emridy Meadows."

    When performing in front of dwarfs, Erik's show name is "The Inebriated Ironfist." When performing in front of non-dwarves, Erik likes to get cheap laughs by calling himself "The Drunken Dwarf." When entering a fighting pit or stage, Erik dons a flashy red cape with a symbol of a mailed fist smashing a tankard of ale into an enemy's face. When performing, Erik's fighting style includes numerous bombastic moves in which he feigns extreme drunkenness and keeps his foes off guard before he suddenly overwhelms them with his great strength and skillful grappling techniques. 

    When fighting, Erik will sing war chants and will hurl various colourful insults at his adversaries (in a chaotic mishmash of dwarvish and the common tongue).

 

CEDRIC

Male – Human – Cleric (War) – Level 3

Str 17 / Dex 13 / Con 15 / Int 13 / Wis 17 / Cha 14 

Background:    Acolyte

Alignment:      Lawful Good

Faith:               St. Cuthbert of the Cudgel

Personality Traits

    Cedric is determined to forge his own path in life, without trading upon his family name.

    He wants to follow in the footsteps of one of the great heroes of the Church of St. Cuthbert: Emrich Bogg, the Demonslayer. 

Ideals

    Charity. I always try to help those in need, no matter what the personal cost.

Bonds

    I would die to recover an ancient relic of my faith that was lost long ago. 

Flaws

    My piety sometimes leads me to blindly trust those that profess faith in my god.

Backstory

    Cedric is the minutes-older twin brother of Godric, respectively the 7th and 8th sons of the Knight Commander Exegius, loyal vassal of the Baron of Shiboleth. Their mother died in the process of giving birth to them, and their father always has been resentful towards them as a result. Without any possibility of inheriting their father’s land and position within the March’s military hierarchy (both of which will go to their oldest brother), and with military service within the March unattractive (as that was the path pursued by their other brothers), the twins decided to make their own fortune and—upon reaching adulthood—headed away from the barony towards the wilder borderlands. Cedric entered the service of St. Cuthbert of the Cudgel.

    The twins fondly recall visits from their uncle, Sir Gustaf ‘the Falcon’. A hunter and wanderer, the Falcon told many stories to the brothers when they were children.  It has been over five years since the Flacon last visited Knight Commander Exegius. Since then, he has kept to his famous hunting lodge in the Dim Forest, north of the city Hochoch. Travellers say that the Falcon earns decent coin from the rulers of Hochoch by helping to keep the woodland’s orc population down, as well as occasionally hosting nobles from that city and other regions of the Gran March and the Grand Duchy of Geoff.

    Cedric travelled to Fort Endurance in the Dim Forest because he read that the ruins of a shrine to Istus lay near it. According to legend, the shrine’s altar would answer correctly one question asked of it. Only one question could be asked of the altar in a person’s lifetime. Cedric had been having dreams of a dark force – an ancient enemy of St. Cuthbert – rising again. These dreams tormented him for almost a year. Learning more about this dark force was his reason for travelling to Fort Endurance and seeking the shrine of Istus.

    At the shrine Cedric asked: “Where should I seek the rising dark force of Chaos and Evil that plagues my dreams?” The altar of Istus answered: “Travel to Hommlet, near the city of Verbobonc; those who follow St. Cuthbert there will aid you in your efforts.” 

 

GODRIC

Male – Human – Rogue (Arcane Trickster) – Level 3

Str 13 / Dex 17 / Con 14 / Int 17 / Wis 13 / Cha 15 

Background:    Charlatan

Alignment:       Chaotic Good

Faith:                ?

Personality Traits

    The lesson Godric has learned from his childhood is to take what you can get, because you cannot rely upon others. That said, though he is selfish he is not malicious; he generally avoids causing any real harm.

Ideals

    Godric has a long-standing fascination with magic, including the stories of the roguish mage Quesse the Quick.

Bonds

    Godric is devotedly loyal to his minutes-older twin brother, even though he finds his devotion to Saint Cuthbert grating.

Flaws

    Godric is sure no one can be as clever as he is and may overestimate his own position.

Character Backstory

    Godric is the minutes-younger twin brother of Godric, respectively the 8th and 7th sons of the Knight Commander Exegius, loyal vassal of the Baron of Shiboleth. Their mother died in the process of giving birth to them, and their father always has been resentful towards them as a result. Without any possibility of inheriting their father’s land and position within the March’s military hierarchy (both of which will go to their oldest brother), and with military service within the March unattractive (as that was the path pursued by their other brothers), the twins decided to make their own fortune and—upon reaching adulthood—headed away from the barony towards the wilder borderlands. While Cedric entered the service of St. Cuthbert, Godric lived a seemingly idle life supported by gambling and vague "business" pursuits.

    The twins fondly recall visits from their uncle, Sir Gustaf ‘the Falcon’. A hunter and wanderer, the Falcon told many stories to the brothers when they were children. It has been over five years since the Flacon last visited Knight Commander Exegius. Since then, he has kept to his famous hunting lodge in the Dim Forest, north of the city Hochoch. Travellers say that the Falcon earns decent coin from the rulers of Hochoch by helping to keep the woodland’s orc population down, as well as occasionally hosting nobles from that city and other regions of the Gran March and the Grand Duchy of Geoff.

    Godric recalls the Falcon’s tales concerning a half-elven magic-using burglar named ‘Quesse the Quick’ in particular. (Apparently Quesse was related to Godric’s family through her human father.)  Quesse eventually retired two centuries ago to a hidden manse. Godric hopes to someday find Quesse’s hidden Manse, which he assumes is now abandoned, and perhaps recover some helpful magic items.

    Although Godric did not choose to try to find the Shrine of Istus (that was his brother Cedric’s idea), he decided to take advantage of the opportunity to ask about Quesse. So, unsurprisingly, he asked: “Where is the Manse of Quesse?” The answer: “Quesse’s home lies within the Gnarley Forest; the woodsy elves there know the way.”


19 February 2022

Crypts and Things on sale

Until midnight (GMT) on Monday the 21st (February 2022), there is a sale at the D101 Games web store. Everything is 25 percent off if you enter the code "shakespear" when reviewing the cart before checking out.
 
A golden opportunity to obtain the premier swords and sorcery role-playing game Crypts and Things!
 
By Crom!


13 February 2022

Against the Darkmaster on sale during February

 


I’ve praised the “inspired-by-MERP” fantasy role-playing game Against the Darkmaster (VsD) before here
 
If you’re curious about the game, I thought that I would mention that VsD products are 30 percent off until the end of the month at DriveThruRPG.

12 February 2022

To the Mountains of Mirkwood and the Tower of Black Glass

Adventures 7 and 8 of the Spider Cult of Mirkwood campaign  


The Characters (more information here):

  • Hengil Foros (Dúnedan Warden of Rivendell) 
  • Ulvmund Galmund (Barding Warrior of Dale) 
  • Hartmut Hare-Eye (Beorning Wanderer of the Anduin Vale)

Information on the campaign:

[A portion of Peter Fenlon's amazing map in ICE's Mirkwood]

Adventure 7: To the Mountains of Mirkwood


7.1 From Rhosgobel to the Old Forest Road (mid-April 2947)

 

The companions, accompanied by Quesse (a raven of Radagast), depart Rhosgobel and travel to Woodmen Town. There they stay (once again) at ‘The Gentle Leaf’ inn. At the inn they meet the dwarves Bofri and Nili (‘the silent’). Hengil convinces Bofri and Nili to join the company’s mission to the tower, explaining that removing the menace posed by the cult is necessary for the dwarves of Erebor to open up the Old Forest Road again for trade.

 

The companions deliver Radagast’s book to the herbalist Witihis. Upon learning that the party plans to travel to the Mountains of Mirkwood, the herbalist warns them that there are dangerous vines high in the peaks (the ‘Yavin Girith [S. “Shuddering Fruits”]). The vines’ fruit is deadly and should be avoided. The vines also disperse soporific spores, a blue mist that can induce a dreamless sleep. He gives the companions five dried leaves that can revive sleeping people (when crushed and breathed in by those who slumber).

 

The party then visits the hallowed Hall of Balthi and gains an audience with Althyn Waulfa (the leader of Woodmen Town). Waulfa commands two Woodmen hunters—Evoric and Grimfast—to accompany the party on their mission.

[Central Woodmen Town from ICE's Mirkwood]

From Woodmen Town the company journeys to the entrance to the Old Forest Road. At the entrance is a small Beorning fort, built upon an ancient Dwarven way station. It is commanded by an old acquaintance of Hartmut, Otbert.

 

7.2 The Old Forest Road (late April 2947)

 

The party travels along the Old Forest Road. Two days into the forest the company encounters Geirbald and his Brotherhood of Outlaws. Geirbald warns the company of the legendary Werewolf of Mirkwood. The adventurers rest with the Outlaws in their hidden camp.

Two days later the company comes across an ancient statue; it is identified by Bofri to be the likeness of Thráin I (first king of Erebor).

 

Later in their journey Quesse (the raven) warns the party of an imminent ambush by goblins. Surviving unscathed, they continue for many days deeper into the forest. Two weeks after entering Mirkwood the company camps at another old dwarven way station. Midway through the black night, the group is attacked by six Woodmen cultists, two attercops, and a terrible great spider. Evoric is tangled in webs. Nili and Hartmut are knocked out by the cultists’ sleeping poison. The great spider almost defeats Ulvmund but ultimately is driven away. The other spiders and the cultists are slain. Battered, sickened, and tired, the company deliberates about what to do next.

 

While the party rests, Hengil has a vision of a lost refuge. The refuge is hidden in the ruins of an ancient Elvish fortified town, abandoned millennia ago, that lies along the old Elf trail to the north.

 

7.3 Into the Mountains of Mirkwood (late April 2947)

 

After another day of marching along the Old Forest Road, the party finds the hidden mystical Elf path and begins journeying north into the Mountains of Mirkwood. (This path, which has survived the centuries thanks to Elvish enchantments, was indicated on the party’s map by Haldir back in Rhosgobel.) As the party ascends into the bleak mountains, the oak and beech trees are replaced with dark pine. A sense of despair overwhelms the companions.

 

At long last, the party reaches the safe hideout in the ancient refuge of the Wood Elves. There the party rests. Hengil has a dream of the black tower, Sarn Goriwing, and apprehends its overall layout. He also sees the pale and beautiful leader of the cult within the tower. To Hengil’s amazement, she looks to be of the Dúnedain! While still dreaming, the mistress of the tower turns her gaze towards Hengil and he awakens in a cold sweat.


[Sarn Goriwing from ICE's Mirkwood]

 

The party continues their journey upwards into the mountains the next day. While travelling alongside a steep ravine, the woodman Evoric falls over and down into some thick webbing. He is soon slain by a horde of attercops, who then start scurrying towards the companions. Grimfast throws his torch upon the webbing, which rapidly goes up in flames. Unfortunately, Grimast also is slain by an attercop. However, the surviving attercops flee and the diminished party continues its quest.

 

After another day of travel the party approaches the Black Lake. About 4 miles south of the lake the adventurers depart from the Elf path and head due north towards the lake, which is hidden high in a valley within the mountains. As they approach the black lake between two rough mountains (two miles apart) they come upon hundreds of Yavin Girith (S. ‘Shuddering Fruits’). A faint blue mist emanates from the beautiful vines. These spores cause Ulvmund and Grimfast to fall fast asleep. Fortunately, Hengil remembers the lore regarding the Yavin Girith (told to him by the herbalist Witihis) and crushes the leaves to awaken Ulvmund and Grimfast.

 

The adventurers travel away from the vines. Dusk falls and the party makes camp.

 

Adventure 8: The Tower of Black Glass  

 

8.1 Sarn Goriwing

 

The party scouts the Black Lake. It is roughly one mile in diameter. The shores of the lake are rocky, but there are many dark pine trees. The lake itself looks like a smooth mirror of jet glass. At the north edge of the lake the adventurers spy the black spire rising above the spray of the waterfall. The waters of the lake are fed by a variety of mountain streams; the lake water flows around the tower, and down a waterfall. The resulting river is the tainted infamous Gûlduin—the river that induces sleep in all who drink from its waters.

 

On the western side of the lake are some stone plinths. The party spies two rafts tied to the plinths. Hartmut is true to his moniker “Hare-eye” as he spots two patrols of spiders circling the lake, and some human guards near the rafts.  

 

The party ambushes one of the patrols. Two spiders are slain. The third makes a deal with the party. In return for an oath to let it flee safely, the spider tells the party the password for the tower: “Web of Blackness” (spoken in the tongue of the Woodmen, followed by some spider clicks). The spider then scuttles away.

 

The party ambushes the other patrol and the guards near the rafts – all are slain quickly and quietly by the crafty heroes. A raft then is used to reach the tower. Using the password, the adventurers fool the Woodmen cultist guards into thinking that they are friendly forces.

 

[Woodman cultist (image from C7's Rhovanion Region Guide)]

 

The tower then is explored. Many important tomes and items are procured. Another eldritch black stone is found. At its base is written: “Submit to the Glory of the Unlight!” (written in a corrupt form of Quenya). Sensing its malevolent nature, the adventurers carefully claim it.

 

To his enormous relief and delight, Hengil finally recovers the lost artefact of the House of Foros: the great mithril horn “Fuinavar” (‘gloom-refuser’)!

 

Heading up the black spire further, the adventurers finally reach the laboratory and library of the tower’s Númenórean sorceress, Ungurth Móré (‘Blackheart Deathspider’), and her mighty Woodman guardian Urlik. Urlik is accompanied by a terrible hunter spider. They are not pleased by the party’s appearance.

 

An alarm resounds throughout the tower. Woodmen cultists from below charge up the stairs to aid their dark lady in her hour of need. They are slain. Ungurth Móré, Urlik, and the spider flee to the top of the tower. They are pursued by the party. A great mêlée ensues. Hengil blasts Fuinavar to rally his companions. Urlik and the spider are killed while Ungurth Móré leaps over the edge of the tower. She lands on a giant bat that starts to fly away to the north.

 

Determined not to let the sorceress escape justice, Hartmut readies his longbow (the reward given to him by the merchant Thal Eolsen, many moons ago). He releases the string and his arrow pierces the back of Ungurth Móré, causing her to tumble from her vile mount to her death.

 

The party is victorious!

 

8.2 The journey to Lake Town (late April – early May 2947)

 

Triumphant but badly battered, the party leaves the tower and returns to the Old Forest Road. They travel east to Iach Celduin. Amidst the ruins of the town, they find a recently rebuilt inn and fort. The former is run by dwarves from Erebor; the latter is an outpost of Esgaroth. Bofri and Nili, drained by their recent travails, decide to stay with their kin at the inn for a while. They wish Hartmut, Ulvmund, and Hengil well, and assure them of a generous welcome should they ever visit Erebor in the future.

 

The party then travels from Iach Celduin along the old road to Lake Town.  

 

[Lake Town by J.R.R. Tolkien]

 

8.3 Plans for the future (May 2947)

 

While resting in Esgaroth, the companions make some plans for the future. They agree to take the black stone that they discovered in Sarn Goriwing to Radagast for safekeeping.

 

Helmut then plans to settle for a while near the Carrock. He hopes for some time of peace and reflection now that the cult has been destroyed. Ulvmund intends to return to Dale and request King Bard’s assistance in re-establishing the Galmund fiefdom. He smiles at his mind’s vision of a rebuilt tower of Bar-en-Dindol. And he hopes to find a suitable lady of Dale to ensure that his family line does not end with him. Hengil plans eventually to return to Rivendell with Fuinavar but is considering first visiting the beautiful elven sage Luinwen.

 

Now that the shadow of the spider cult has been extinguished, the future looks bright for the three accomplished companions!


[The characters ended the campaign at level 6. Perhaps future adventures await them?]


[Your humble GM managing the climatic battle atop Sarn Goriwing]


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