Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Chatelaine's Apprentices

The Chatelaine of Storms is the powerful and fickle enchantress who rules Rastingdrung. Naturally she attracts to her court all manners of hangers-on, including individuals who would pry from her the secrets of her formidable art. Covetous of her station, she is stingy with such knowledge.  However, it is useful to her to have a number of such talented individuals at her beck and call, and she delights at the opportunity for intrigue and competition it provides. At any given time she thus maintains seven apprentices. They are arranged in a hierarchical order, each station above the next. Moving up the ladder comes with perquisites of the Chatelaine's time and knowledge, as well as the material benefits of comparatively luxury, esteem, and command. Needless to say, the apprentices are constantly scheming and backbiting. The ranking is nominally established by the high stakes public performance each apprentice gives at the annual Festival of Sybarites. But the order is subject to frequent alteration at the Chatelaine's whims. These are the Chatelaine's current apprentices, working upwards from the lowest station.

Mordrovo Master of Colored Vapors
Seventh Apprentice

Mordrovo is a thin and greying sorcerer who dresses in shabby clothes. His powers are feeble, limited mainly to spells involving his signature colored fogs. He affects a charming combination of deluded grandeur and abject self-pity. He resides in apartments above the stables. Mordrovo is the longest serving of the Chatelaine's apprentices.

Adriana the Eery Child Witch
Sixth Apprentice

Adriana appears to be no older than seven, and wears dresses with bows and ribbons. Her voice is that of a crone. She is served by her apprentice Valtropos, a pale and acerbic man who is also said to be her lover. She is an intelligent and capable practitioner who was the 2nd Apprentice until recently when she called into question the intelligence of the Chatelaine's doltish paramour. Now she resides nears the maids quarters over the palace kitchens. She hatches schemes to resume her lost position.

Fifth Apprentice

Spaldiv is thin and spindly, all angles and points, with a pasty face. He is served by his spectral familiar Athanasius, an ancestral spirit bound to him through rituals performed in his family tombs. He would have risen higher at the court, but he smells of the grave, and is attended by apparitions and ghostly events.

Fourth Apprentice

Bathsheba is a village witch. She claims to be possessed by the great Ghinorian sorceress Zashtassa, Queen of the Six Circles. No one would believe her except for the fact that on occasion and to her own surprise, she casts enchantments of a power vastly outstripping her meager education.

Third Apprentice

With the typical square draw and handsome profile of Tarantian nobility, Almurek is a strapping and muscled youth. He spends his days traveling in the wilds. He is said to speak the language of all beasts, and to know how to call the lesser winds. His familiar is a great white lion, which he rides into court to the delighted squeals of admiring maidens.

Second Apprentice

Mercurio has devoted his life to mastering the fickle and mysterious phantasmal force. None know his true true face, as his appearance is constantly changing. Seeming wonders travel constantly in his wake. Those at court have quickly learned that in his presence reality always lies behind a series of veils. He resides along with many curiosities in lush apartments near the Chatelaine's closest advisors, concealed by intricate illusions.

Albinus Valoris 
First Apprentice

Albinus is the Chatelaine's advisor and confident. He is a powerful and corrupt magus in his own right. He is said to delight in the summoning and enslavement of faeries, from whom he draws his power, and extracts many secrets. By his own choice, he inhabits carefully designed apartments near the palace dungeons, where he keeps his slaves close to hand in their dolorous prisons.

Friday, October 9, 2015

The Strange Rhythm of Playing Over G+ and Early D&D

I just finished DMing my third ever session of google+ (or any internet) d&d. I was rolling both encounter checks, and percentile chances that various creatures (people) would be in their lairs, and happened not to get very many encounters. This resulted in a large number of unoccupied rooms. I feel like in a face to face game, although this might be a little slow, you could sort of handle the rhythm of it in such a way that it wouldn't be a problem. But in Google+, somehow it doesn't really work. I noticed it even in my last game, where the players went through (only) four rooms without encounters, before moving into some pretty gonzo high action stuff and already it was like I felt like the thing was dragging before the action kicked in. 

Here's a theory. Here are some features of the game I was running, and also those I have played in on G+ (1) They are episodic in nature, in that there is no presumption that the same group will be present each time, even if there is a hoped for continuity. (2) Everything begins and ends outside the dungeon, for the same reason. (3) XP for gold. I like all these features a lot. They're perfect for playing D&D on google+. They also (self-consciously) mirror early D&D practices, e.g. in Gary's Greyhawk Campaign. 

I think these features partly explain some of the facts about rhythm. Take the episodic nature of the game. If I play in a session where some goal is worked towards without being achieved, that's disappointing because I might not play in the session where the payoff comes. Another part of it is, I think, the treasure for xp rule, again a classic. Like, if everything is being measured (goal-wise) in terms of the treasure haul, then there's huge pressure to have at least a whiff of a lot of treasure every time. 0 gold in a session = total failure. 

The weird thing is early D&D had all of these features,but also had lots of empty rooms and low key time. I think this might explain (in conjunction with the huge groups in early d&d, not so much replicated on G+) the otherwise baffling use of the "caller" who leads the group by saying what everyone does discussed in the DMG. I have trouble imagining that being fun if stuck to closely, but it would help handle the flow of the game, moving it much more quickly over multiple spaces where no action occurs so that more "success" could be had in each session. 

However, since I'm not interested in having a caller, I think this really will affect how I design dungeons. I'll aim for almost 0 dead space, and more planned encounters that are automatically triggered by moving into an area. This isn't exactly unfortunate, but it is unexpected. It also makes it hard to imagine designing living breathing dungeons with multiple factions cohabiting. So much for Red Nails.   

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Ultan's Door

To the casual observer, it looks to be a normal day in Rastingdrung. As the long afternoon dwindles in the palace, manservants hurriedly polish the silver, while cooks sweat and curse, struggling to meet the Chatelaine of Storm's elaborate culinary demands. In the Temple of Ulim, church prostitutes ready themselves for another night of service in the pleasure chambers and gaming rooms above, while in the Silent Halls below, the Scarlet Censors draw up the newest list of proscribed activities intended to forestall the latest imagined heresies. Honest Rastingdrungers, lumberjacks and fishermen, return to the city, exhausted from a long day of toil, showing their black seals and matching their names to the rolls as they pass through Bishop's Gate. But amongst the city's less savory elements--criminals, poets, heretics, and thrill seeking scum--a whispered rumor has begun to spread. A printmaker named Ultan, while laying poison for rats in his shop just off the Square of Eidolons, is said to have come across a door under his stairs. Word has spread quietly that Ultan is charging 10 gold pieces a head for entrance, no questions asked.

This printmaker claims that this doorway was not there as recently as the previous day, and, even more implausibly, that it leads to the sewers of Zyan, the infamous floating city of Wishery. From reckless uncles or cruel nursemaids, all children learn the stories of Zyan, the city of porcelain abattoirs. They learn with remorse and fear about the sacrifice of naughty children to alien gods by its masked citizens, and with morbid curiosity about the deadly puppet shows of that strange city, ample sustenance to nurse their nightmares. Stories of a more fantastic and picaresque variety are shared over whiskey and bitter tea about the lush bowers of the inverted white jungle that dangles from the underside of Zyan, home to ferocious beasts, its thick foliage said to hide lost hanging temples, the lairs of seductive lamia.

If Ultan's claims prove true, such an opportunity come once in a lifetime. The last door appeared a century ago, surfacing incongruously on the oily waters of Lake Wooling. It remained open for only six months and a day, time enough for Garanax, then champion of the Chatelaine, to return from the dreamlands with a mated pair of the monstrous velvety Crows that serve now as mounts for her dread Storm Riders. Although neither a pioneer of esoteric pleasures nor pious observer of the sacraments, for his achievement he was sainted, over the clucking of the Priests. To this day the bright carvers fashion the effigy of Garanax, Saint of the Crows. At the Festival of the Sybarites, he is one of the most popular floats.

Saint Garanax 
Who knows how long the door will remain open this time? If you wish to pass through Ultan's door, I am running weekly games on G+, Thursday nights from CDT 830pm-1130pm. We will be using Labyrinth Lord with the Advanced Edition Companion rules. New first level human characters only, 4d6 down the line. I will post some additional classes and house rules on this blog shortly. The game will be set in my Ruined Ghinor, which you can explore under that label on this blog, although you don't need to.

EDIT: The campaign now has a community page: Through Ultan's Door. All invites and campaign posting will happen there. Drop me a line on google+ and I will gladly send you an invitation to the community.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

To Where Have I Opened the Way?

In the magenta shadows of the Slumbering Dunes, the veil of reality is thin and easily torn. Here, the use of certain magics (summoning and spells affecting space and time, such as dimension door) risks tearing open a portal to elsewhere. The caster must immediately save vs. magic. If he succeeds, the spell goes off as normal. If he fails, then he has opened the way to one of the dimensions that presses against the dunes.

To Where Have I Opened the Way? (1d6)

1-2 Wishery
3-4 The Sightless Labyrinth
5-6 The Alkaline Wastes

The portal will remain open for 1d20 turns; during this time beings may pass freely in both direction. Creatures from beyond will be drawn to the strange energies of the portal. Check immediately and once every succeeding turn for a wandering monster.


At the point where the spell was to take effect, a tear sized drop of mirrored liquid appears, expanding rapidly into a massive torus. As it grows, the air becomes humid with an overpowering aroma of nutmeg and earthy decay. In the rippling surface of the torus the characters can see a jungle, apparently upside down as in a funhouse mirror. The dense foliage of the trees is alien in appearance, consisting of chalky branches with trembling white fronds, and thick milky vines. Land is nowhere in sight.  The characters look upon the lush white bowers of the inverted jungle that grows from the bottom of infamous Zyan, the floating city of porcelain abattoirs in the dreamlands. Its fertile and unwholesome growths are fed by the sewage and offal from the gutters of Zyan's countless abattoirs.

Encounters from Wishery (the Inverted Jungle) (1d6):

1. Guildsmen

These beings have descended through the sewers and undercity of Zyan into the depths of the inverted jungle to gather the massive fleshy polyps that can be found clinging to trees in the jungle's middle region. The polyps are of use in the elaborate and gory rituals of their Fleisch Guild. The guildsmen wear serene copper masks and lacquered armor, as well as the harnesses with which they are rappelling into the depths of the jungle. They are curious to see the meats and organs of living beings.   

1 Master Carver HD6 (24) AC4 Att: 2 serrated swords 1d8+4. Anyone struck must save vs. paralysis or be hobbled -2 to hit and 1/2 move by his expert incisions.
2 Journeyman Flayers HD3 (10) (11) AC6 Att: 1 viciously hooked polearm 1d12+2
4 Apprentice Salters HD1 (6) (5) (4) AC6 Att: weighted net (ensnare) or spear 1d6

2. Leopard Pythons

In the glow of the setting sun, the sated forms of these mighty hunters can be seen languidly draped around the branches and trunks of the jungle's dangling trees. When stirred to action by hunger or boredom, their roars echo throughout the jungle. Their powerful sinuous bodies can crush multiple prey, while their heads delivers fierce bites. They usually travel in mated pairs, as does this couple. 

2 Leopard Pythons HD5 (25) (28) AC4 Att: Bite 1d10+2 + Constriction (ensare or squeeze 1d8). The first successful constriction hit snares the victim who will in subsequent rounds take automatic squeezing damage until released. The Leopard Python may snare multiple targets, encircling a new target each round. 

3. Hypnogic Miasma 

Its shimmering, multi-hued surface drips and oozes from branches, coalescing into a surging wave of pseudopods. Within its gelid form, brain like organs are suspended, connected by shifting ganglia, along which colors flash. The Hypnogogic Miasma is the intelligent spore of the Indigo Tyrant fungus that infests the base of jungle trees. It has floated into the depths of the jungle seeking sentient beings to colonize with parasitic growths. Such infected beings are transformed into single-minded defenders of its mother's tree. They touch of the Hypnogogic Miasma's pseudopods induces a state between waking and dreaming, in which the mind is susceptible to phantasms and influence.

Hypnogogic Miasma HD7 (35) AC9 Att 2 pseudo pods 1d8+hypnogia. On a successful hit, the victim must save vs spells or suffer one of the following effects for 4 rounds (1d6): 1. Phantasmal Force 2. Mirror Image (as though cast on the Miasma)  3. Sleep 4. Confusion 5. Blindness 6. Command (attack friends). 

4. Plumed Reavers

Flocks of these winged humanoids may be seen flitting from tree to tree in the sparse and airy lowest levels of the jungle where they dwell. Their originally bright and colorful plumage is stained and mangy from constant exposure to the jungle's offal rains. Curious and cruel by turns, they delight in barter and inflicting suffering. This group has made its way up through the jungle to trade with the hanging merchants of Zyan in their dangling wicker pagodas. They are laden with rare specimens and herbs that they hope to exchange for baubles and slaves to torment.

6 Plumed Reavers HD2 (3) (3) (4) (5) (6) (8) AC6 Dam spear 1d6 or blowgun 1d4 sv. poison 

5. Vothak 

These pale, leathery horrors are the offspring of Martian nightmares. These eyeless hunters are well suited to their inverted home. Their sucker covered feat allow them to climb any surface, and they are comfortable in any orientation. They move with a brutal speed, and attack with four razor sharp claws. Most terrible of all is the bite of their massive maw, filled with needle like teeth. They appetite is limitless and they strike without mercy. Only a superior show of force can turn them aside from chosen prey.

Vothak HD11 (45) AC1 Att 4 claws 1d8 1 bite 1d12 + swallow. If the bite hits by 4 more than needed, the Vothak will swallow his target and immediately retreat through the portal. Anyone ingested takes 3d12 damage per round, but may attack and does not need to roll to hit.

6. Chittering Masons

These intelligent arachnids are subtle builders. Their services are valued in Zyan above, where they serve many of the Guildhouses on lucrative terms. In the inverted jungle, they produce vast multi-level warrens integrated with the trees across swathes of the jungle. The finished products are flowing, inverted towers ending in sharp spires, interconnected by tubular passageways that extend in every direction. Their wants and moods are hard for humans to understand. They have an overwhelming urge to fondle with their long small hands anything beautiful or finely crafted. It is impossible for a human to master their horrible chittering language, but a few of them do speak a giddy and broken common tongue. In combat they use their many arms to grapple and immobilize their foes, so they can deliver a bite containing a paralysis inducing poison.

4 Chittering Masons HD3 (7) (11) (16) AC4 Dam: 1 Grapple + 1 Bite 1d6+poison. A successful grapple can disarm, immbolize, or choke 1d4.

The Sightless Labyrinth

The area immediately darkens to a dim twilight. Towards the point where the spell was to take effect, everything becomes white on black as in the negative of a photograph. At the center of the darkness, a cramped corridor of elaborately worked stone, thick with grotesques and geometrical shapes, stretches into the distance. Looking down the corridor, one can see that it opens onto a set of stairs leading down into an unimaginably vast space filled with terraces and arcades, and enormous screaming statues. This is the Sightless Labyrinth. It endless dark twisting corridors, cramped apartments, ante-chambers, dizzying staircases, and porticoes open onto architectures too vast for the human mind to comprehend. It fills the entire space between worlds. Although it is used by a few powerful wizards as a medium of transportation, for most stranded here it is a hell from which they cannot escape.

The Sightless Labyrinth is in a state of endless religious war. The numerous factions divide along theological lines in their shared byzantine alien faith. The sects fight an endless guerilla war, chamber by chamber, staircase by staircase. For each point of orthodoxy there are dozens of heresies. Strangers who find themselves stranded in the Sightless Labyrinth must quickly acquire theological scruples and facility with the texts, for all sides agree on this alone: there is open season on neutrals for whom are reserved the most gruesome sacrifices to their demon lords.

Encounters from the Sightless Labyrinth (1d6):

 1. Still Prelates

Traditional Still Prelate

Still Prelates are gaunt figures. In the place of a face, a manuscript is set, supported by an elaborate iron cage drilled into their skull. They are silent and malicious figures, who revel in pain and suffering. When they cast spells, their manuscript flips open to the relevant page, and the runes inscribed thereupon glow green. Should they be slain, the manuscript may be extracted from their head. To master the spells one must risk ones sanity, for they are interwoven with a dense and alien theological treatise. The Still Prelates' theology hold that the Ebon Ziggurat was never desecrated. Thus, alone among the sects of the Labyrinth, their worship still focuses on the portion of the Puzzle Scrolls that describe the blood sacrifices performed within its blackened chambers. There is a splinter faction that goes further and rejects as well the authority of the Scribes who later interpreted the Puzzle Scrolls. This faction has been exiled from the Ebon Ziggurat and seeks to regain it at all costs. 

Member of the Splinter Faction

1 Still Prelate HD7 (36) AC2 Att: by spell. Spells memorized: Darkness 15' radius (x2), Cause Fear, Silence 15' Radius, Hold Person, Blindness (x2), Dispel Magic, Insect Plague, Monster Summoning II (summons 1d6 Compass Worms--see below).

2. Vorpal Swine
These entities are summoned for use as siege weapons to break the barricades and seals of enemies, and reap slaughter behind their lines. Often they are imprisoned as tightly curled balls within glass globes that can be thrown up to 60', uncurling on impact into a screaming farrago of limbs and pure hatred. As often as not, the Swine Toads succeed only too well, nesting in halls and apartments that they were supposed to clear, and hunting any who encroach on their territory. The Vorpal Swine moves with a ferocious speed, and can travel across and up any surface, using its suckered limbs. 

1 Vorpal Swine HD8 (45) AC5 Att 4 smash 2d6

3. Charnel Paladins

The Charnel Paladins are colonies of worm like creatures, bound together and raised to consciousness by the occult armor that serves as their shell. They feed on the flesh of their fallen foes by opening hinged apertures in their armor, allowing the surging worms within to lap at putrefying flesh. They are feared in battle for their relentless courage and the power of their alchemical suits. They are servants of the Lambent Lords who manufacture their armor and are responsible for uniting them into consciousness. They follow the tenets of their masters who rigorously interpret all of the laws of the Puzzle Scrolls through the byzantine tractates that concern property and possession. (Their contracts are legendary.) There is, however, a small group of heretical Paladins who have forsaken the Lambent Lords. Through orgiastic sabbaths they seek to recreate the experience in the garden before the Priapic Mother disgorged the Sightless Labyrinth from her star maw, when everything was one and the division between mine and yours was unknown. Travelers sometimes stumble upon their alchemical shells, standing empty in a ring, as their occupants mingle, forsaking consciousness and individuality to couple and feast in a huge surging mass of worm flesh in the ring's center.  

4 Charnel Paladins HD6 AC-2 Att Alchemical Blade 1d10+2 Special: Whenever the suit is damaged in melee, the worms within surge from the crack striking at the attacker as HD2 creatures doing 1d6. 

4. Compass Worms

Compass Worms are five feet in length. Their otherwise featureless head ends in a maw ringed by sharp teeth. They are filled with a hatred of sapient life and an uncontrollable lust for blood. Native to the Sightless Labyrinth, they have an unerring sense of direction, and potent alien senses that allow the worm to “see” in darkness, and detect invisible or hidden creatures. Compass Worms are valued for their frightful force as guardians, and also by all those sorcerers who have reason to tread in twisting labyrinths or the dark places beneath the earth. 

1d8 Compass Worms HD3+1 AC6 Att 1 bite 2d4+1 + blood frenzy. As soon as any of the worms tastes blood (does damage), all worms in a 30' radius enter a wild, thrashing frenzy, receiving an additional attack per round.

5. Hidden Acolytes

The Hidden Acolytes hold that the Prism Messiah of the Fourth Puzzle Scroll has returned and that the Sightless Labyrinth has already been transformed into the Kingdom of the Spectrum promised to the faithful. For this reason, the laws of the Puzzle Scrolls are void, pertaining as they do to the past epoch. To demonstrate this profound truth, they gather in secret to systematically break each and every of the Scroll's innumerable laws. As it turns out, their broken and crooked rituals have opened the way for another sphere of demons to enter the Labyrinth. These powerful and horrific entities aid the Hidden Acolytes in their cause. In order to spread their secret faith, they have conferred on the acolytes a living death that makes their flesh malleable, able to assume the face and appearance of any humanoid. They use this power to insinuate themselves into other factions and slowly win converts to their antinomian creed. 

HD3 AC7 Att Longsword 1d8 Special: ESP, Alter Self, only harmed by magic or silver weapons. The Hidden Acolytes will assume the form of people known to the party and attempt to join them in order to persuade to the cause.  

6. Sacrifice Chattel

The Sacrifice Chattel once belonged to a race of great starfarers, traveling between the many suns in colossal organic ships with spiraled shells. The ship of this group was lost to the labyrinth in a cataclysmic engineering failure. Captured by the Lambent Lords, the crew was bred and trained into submission over countless generations. In the possessive parlance of their masters, the Sacrifice Chattel are those for whom nothing is mine and everything is yours. They thus do not refer to themselves with the first person nominative, but rather the third person possessive. Among them a passive faith has spread. According to this creed, the desecration of the Black Ziggurat was a predestined and holy event. By destroying its physical form the Desecrator liberated its spiritual essence, which now exists in the form of the Inner Ziggurat carried within each and every sentient being. Unlike the body that houses it, the Inner Ziggurat cannot be harmed, and by its possession everyone, no matter their lot in life, is now spiritually speaking, a member of the caste of Ziggurat Born. 

2d6 Sacrifice Chattel HD2+1 AC8 Att will not attack. The chattel will immediately attempt to enslave themselves to the party.  

The Alkaline Wastes

A thin glowing vertical line appears in the air, running from the ground to about ten feet in height. Reality folds back, bunching up on either side, as though the world was a curtain being whisked aside. A gust of cold wind blows, accompanied by an unpleasant metallic taste at the back of the mouth. In the opening, a bleak snowy landscape sits beneath a lavender sky in which hang six black moons. In the distance, the plain ends in what appear to be cyclopean cliffs of a metallic hue, streaked by brown rust. Strange growths spring from rocky outcroppings, a mix of impossible forms, the organic blending with the mechanical. These are the Alkaline Wastes.

The environment of the Alkaline Wastes is difficult for man, a constant chemical winter of acid snows, and corrosive winds. The wastes are the forlorn home of the inimical Archivists who broke great Ghinor and ruled the sons of men for more than two centuries. The wastes all but forgotten in Ruined Ghinor, except to the few Waywatchers who keep dedicated watch over the sealed portals, the locations of which they hide at all costs. While the empire of the Archivists exercises nominal dominion over the entirety of these dreary wastes, in truth they shelter in their cities, sinking ever deeper into their quixotic and obsessive inquires. Beyond their walls, strange things shuffle among the ruins of past empires and abandoned projects.

Encounters from the Alkaline Wastes (1d6):

1. Tube Lich

In the vast battlefields of the long forgotten wars of the Alkaline Wastes, strange weapons and fortifications lie corroding, buried along with the dead in drifts of chemical snow. The leakage and mingling of degraded materials and bio-occult effluvia sometimes give rise to necromechanical sumps out of which shamble the war dead. Tube Liches are pilot entities that have managed to free themselves from the apparatuses in which they were lodged, pulling with them the tubing and circuitry that is embedded in their flesh. Depending on how much hardware they manage to take with them, they can be quite a potent force. Often they are deranged, continuing to fight a war centuries old against enemies long perished.

3 Tube Liches HD4 (17) (21) AC2 Att: Ancient Blade 1d8+1 Special: Flickering shield barrier absorbs the first 2 points of damage from every attack.
1 Tube Lich HD4 (20) AC2 Att: Ancient Blade 1d8+1 Special: electrified, anyone striking the Tube Lich with a metal weapon must save vs. breath weapon or take 1d10 damage.
1 Tube Lich HD4 (14) AC2 Att: Cannon 3d6 save vs. breath weapon for half.    

2. Rust Mantis

The ruins of the Alchemical Wastes sustain many scavengers. The foul Rust Mantis are intelligent insect men who feed on feed on a mixture of rusting metal and flesh. Their chitin is streaked with brown and verdigris, dusted with frost. Their bite is quite painful, for their saliva carries a corrosive acid that eats through metal. (They are also bearers of many diseases, especially acute tetnis.) If a party appears weak, they will advance covetously towards any of them wearing metal. On a strong showing of force, they are likely to scatter and search for easier prey. 

2d6 Rust Mantis' HD2 AC4 Attk 2 claws 1d6 + 1 bite 2d6

3. Jade Hounds

Two humans, their bodies covered in chemical burns and frost bite, shamble desperately forward. They are the descendants of the slave population of humans imported in great numbers to the Alkaline Wastes during the Arhcivists' terrestrial dominion. Having extricated themselves from their bulb-headed conditioning units and planned a daring escape, they are being hunted by the Archivist's terrible Jade Hounds. The Hounds hunt by tracing the psycho-emotional imprint of their prey. (They can literally smell fear.) The Archivists are watching through the eyes of the hounds and will learn about the rift (and PCs) through the ensuing altercation. 

Davos (human) HD3 AC8 Att: Vibro Whip 1d6+2
Mirval (human) HD1 AC9 Att: Sword 1d8
6 Jade Hounds HD4 AC3 Att: Bite 1d8+2 or Psychic Howl (once per day) everyone within 60' must save vs. spells or be stunned for 1d10 rounds

4. Rime Slug

The Spatter Lakes are frozen bodies of water that dot their Alkaline Wastes, their crystalized surfaces shiny in refractory and oily hues. They are fed underneath by deep chemical cenotaphs filled with strange life. The Rime Slugs travel from these depths to the surface of the wastes during the stages of development where they are filled with a deep mewling hunger. They are capable of boring through snow and ice, and constricting their great bodies to fit through small fissures in rocks. 

1 Rime Slug HD8 (48) AC7 Att: Bite 1d12 or breath weapon. Special: twice per day can breath a 60' cone of acidic frost 4d6 save vs. breath weapon for half.

5. Vaxian Rebels

Former slaves of the Archivists, the Vaxians are the greatest mapmakers in the many worlds. For their masters they composed wondrous and diverse maps: familiar but masterfully executed: spherical projections, isometric maps, strings of absolute coordinates; others charted wholly new regions: the lozenge maps of neuro-emotional states, or the rhizomatic displays of the transworld manifestations of organisms; and some were fascinating novelties, such as the four dimensional colored light maps representing the movement of teeming insects within a hive. Through subtle mapping errors, introduced over decades, the Vaxians precipitated a dimensional catastrophy for their masters. During the ensuing mayhem, most Vaxians escaped through carefully planned routes into other planes. A small fanatical group has remained behind to conduct a doomed guerrilla war against their former masters. Hailing from a conquered jungle world, their bodies have been altered to survive in the endless chemical winter of the Alkaline Wastes. They are skilled warriors, and relentless in their struggle. 

1 Commander HD4 (15) AC2 Att: Stun rod (10 charges) save vs. paralysis
6 Troops HD2 (7) AC4 Att: Blaster (6 charges) 1d8 or Vibro Knife 1d8

6. Hermit Beasts

The Alkaline Wastes is home to a variety of organism that have adopted the method of the terrestrial hermit crab, integrating themselves into armored shells composed of the detritus of the waste. In many cases, their nervous systems are able to breathe a second life into the machinery of their shell, nerve fibers connecting with circuit boards, the bio-electrical current providing a new power sources. 

1 Turbine Lobster HD6 (30) AC2 Att 2 Claws 1d8+4 Special: 2 times a day can activate its turbine shell. This either pushes everyone back, save vs. breath weapon or go tumbling 60' backwards (1d6 damage), or draws them into the blades, save vs. breath weapon or take 3d6 damage.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Slumbering Dunes Approaches

The party consists of three clansmen who wear the pelts of the great grizzly they slew together in their youth, and one foreigner. The clansmen are Ike the Bloodhorn (ranger 4) who carries the bow Farslayer, Gibs-Golax (fighter 3) who swears allegiance to no man but himself, and Ildrev (druid 4) an uncanny acolyte of the All-Mother who speaks the tongues of beasts. The foreigner is Itash (Illusionist 3) who knows many ancient secrets and can bend the minds of men.

They have traveled to the seaside town of Wolsdag to take in the Festival of the Longtide, and put together a crew to sail once again to the ruin-choked shores of the Shattered Isles. Upon arrival they are invited by old friends to the inner shrine of the Temple of Manannan to witness the sacred rights. As night falls and the crashing waves of the long tide mount, people crowd into the narrow and smoky subterranean space. Here the temple opens directly to a sea cavern, into which marble steps dramatically plunge. The sacred torches that burn year round are lowered into the waves where, having kept their watch for a full year, they finally sizzle into darkness. The phosphorescent mosaics, invisible in the torchlight, spring to life in psychedelic colors. They reveal the three stages of the history of man. One wall is taken up by a representation of his languid and joyous dwelling in the opulent, immortal, submarine gardens of the Ancient of the Sea. The next wall is taken up with his transgression and exile to his terrestrial prison. Many ages of suffering are depicted her, full of warfare, hunger, slavery, pestilence and death in his great airy grave. The third wall reveals the day of judgment, when the waters once again swallow the unnatural land, and the righteous are welcomed back to Manannan's side while the wicked drown gasping for air.

After the interminable dolorous confessions of the congregation's sins, they receive forgiveness form the priests of Manannan. One by one they joyfully shed their awkward land garb, and are welcomed naked into the sea, where they swim through the submerged cave out into the air of the secluded beach where the festivities are held. Here among the crashing surf they break their fast, feasting and drinking late into the night with great lascivious abandon.

The next morning, the party is awoken far too early by an apprentice Tempter from the Merchant's Guild. They have been invited to lunch with Guildmaster Horvo in the cloistered pagodas of the secretive hall. Curiosity piqued, they make their way wincing and cursing up the stairs to the hilltop at the center of Wolsdag. They enter the lacquered chambers of the hall, passing the massive carved doors of the temple to Nepthlye and are escorted up the stairs and out onto the pagoda, with its hanging vines, dappled light, and lily ponds. They are led to the corner where Guildmaster Horvo is ensconced.

During a fine repast with freely flowing golden liquor that almost makes up for their miserable condition, Horvo makes his proposition. Not far to the West of Wolsdag begins the lands of the picture men, the joyless, tattooed reavers that have terrorized the seaside towns and unjustly blocked all trade along the western coast. The free mariners have recently  crushed their assembled fleet. Now guild ships travel freely up and down the coast. However, about two months ago a heavily laden vessel disappeared three weeks of fair sailing up the coast from Wolsdag. It vanished near mysterious mists that obscure a not inconsiderable stretch of sea off the coast at this point. The currents here are dangerous, and all sailors know to avoid entering the misty waters. Fearing that the ship had been lost to a concealed reaver fleet, the guild sent a pair of vessels armed to the teeth to patrol the region. They too vanished without a trace. Inland from the mists rise monstrous red dunes that are sacred to the pictured men. The Guild is hoping that a discrete and well-seasoned force might gather some intelligence about the lost ships and the mists, as well as the nature of the dunes, since the red sands are likely rich in rare ore, and there may be some lucrative and mutually beneficial trade in antiquities in the region if the obstacles are not too great. If they bring reliable and valuable intelligence, the Guild is willing to fund a future expedition to the Shattered Isles, and to offer above market rates for valuables acquired.When asked if the Tempters have been able to acquire information through their holy powers, Horvo hints darkly that the dunes have been shielded from the temple eyes by some retrograde force that opposes trade and open dealing. If they bring reliable and valuable intelligence, the Guild is willing to fund a future expedition to the Shattered Isles, and to offer above market rates for valuables acquired.

The party, intrigued but wishing for more intelligence, turns to their comrades among the free mariners and the enterprising faction. From the mariners they learn that after the naval victory, the society of the picture men has collapsed as a result of the astounding defeat, and the various tribes have descended into a bloody civil war. They learn that there is one picture men town along the coast between here and the dunes, Kom, a fishing village two weeks up the coast. When they speak to the enterprising faction they learn that they are bitter about the new monopoly routes opening up along the coast, since previously there was plenty of lucrative unlicensed trading with pictured reavers. They also learn that no one goes in the strange mists, which have a sweet smell as of persimmons, and obscure waters attended by wild currents, with many uncharted reefs and small islands that spell doom for ships. About the dunes themselves, they learn only that the picture men treat them as a holy site full of demons and spirits, and that they are forbidden to enter them. Since the dunes lie deep in hostile territory, they are unexplored by Wolsdagers. There are, however, some wild tales of travelers emerging laden with ancient treasures.  

Liking the sound of all this, the party uses guild funds to procure a huge sea canoe, and a smaller canoe for reconnoitering. They procure provisions for the trip and seek out an old companion (hireling), a sardonic archer but the name of Crow, who was the sole surviving hireling of their descent beneath the waves to explore the Submerged Spire of Sarpedon the Shaper. And so, on one clear morning, their spirits high, they set off into the ocean in a giant sea canoe, towing a smaller vessel behind them.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Retired But Not Forgotten

All honor to Shea, master of compass worms, lord of the quiet ones! Who explored the sun-drenched haunted shores of the Shattered Isles, who faced down Yeti in silent snowy wastes, who liberated the Book of Six Circles from its trembling brass guardian, who sank beneath the waves to loot the Submerged Spire of Sarpedon the Shaper, who descended into the utter depths of lost mines where he laid eyes on the meteor that destroyed our world, and felt its blistering heat against his skin. He was at home in the quiet and forsaken places of the earth.

But all this was not without price. Small of stature, his delicate, handsome face was torn from him by the barbs of the smiling golden mask of the Interrogator. Ever after, he has hidden the ruins of his face behind a featureless mirrored mask, along the surface of which he can cause nightmares to flow. His occult explorations and congress with demons have bent him from his former upright and pure disposition. Slowly the code that binds men loses its meaning for him. At great risk to his own sanity, he has called forth the Compass Worms from the Sightless Labyrinth. Beneath his robes, his flesh is covered with sigils that fashion his body into a living conduit for the tangled horrors known as the Quiet Ones. For a period of time, his consciousness was locked in a hyperdimensional prison beyond space and time, while his husk was inhabited by an ancient acolyte of forgotten and evil gods. He has been to hells and back.

Although few were comfortable in his presence, he will be sorely missed by his comrades. They relied ever on his keen judgment and crooked sorcery to rescue them from peril. There will always be a place for him at their campfire.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Ruined Ghinor Does The Slumbering Ursine Dunes

Setting out east along the coast, the Slumbering Ursine Dunes lie fifty miles from the port town of Wolsdag. As one travels, the climate becomes drier and the soil loose and sandy. The vast humps of the Slumbering Dunes can be seen rising towards the sky from miles away. The locals dwelling near the dunes are beyond the reach or interest of the rival powers and principalities of Ruined Ghinor. Left to their own devices, they lead short and joyless lives, serving in their youth as raiders in cyclical blood feuds, and later as farmers coaxing nourishment from the barren soil. Superstitious, they keep their distance from the dunes, having trafficked for generations in tales about their witchery.

But it was not always so. When ancient Ghinor was young, the fragrant shores and secluded cloisters of the Slumbering Dunes sheltered ascetic orders of the kingdom's byzantine faiths. Earlier still its precipitous carnelian slopes and winding byways served as holy precincts for the fearful, bloody cults of infant man. It is said that traces remain of older sites still, and that occasionally travelers stumble upon evidence of an unimaginable inhuman antiquity strangely undisturbed. Always the red sands have lured those with transcendent purposes and cosmic longings, for here the outer regions can be glimpsed as a flickering flame through onionskin parchment. Where else can one glimpse the fevered abundance of Wishery, the bleak chemical winter of the Alkaline Wastes, or the cramped non-euclidean spaces of the Sightless Labyrinth?

Even now, the dunes draws to itself a square of opposed actors. Each has come, so they believe, for his own reasons.

On the trail into the dunes, a modest village sits, a dozen houses arranged in a haphazard manner with communal farming plots. This is Kugelberg. The village head, Jaromir, was once a captain, but he disobeyed his hetman, refusing to send his men to their death in a harebrained assault. For his scruples, his right eye was plucked from his head, and he was sent into exile. He came first with his sons, but Kugelberg has since attracted a strange assortment of castaways: the crippled, the shunned, entertainers, heretics, even philosophers. It is open to all peaceable folk who comport themselves with respect. Jaromir knows much about the dunes, but says little. His experiences have embittered him, and he has left behind adventure and the arts of war.

Within the Slumbering Dunes, time is a vexed riddle. But if we employ a temporal idiom in a guarded way, we may observe that the Master arrived in the twilight of Ghinor. It is not known whether he is a forgotten god, or a traveler from distant worlds, but he brought with him the droning bees, the mark of the bear, and the wild abandon of starry mead. In the final days when Ghinor was broken and the yoke of the Archivists descended on mankind, he welcome to the dunes the remnants of the Legion of the Black Pearl. They stumbled upon the dunes as they fought a desperate rearguard action against the siege engines and strange soldiers of the enemy, followed quickly by a stream of straggling refugees. Sheltered by the eternal spring of the Slumbering Dunes, they weathered the long winter of humanity's subjugation. His followers, now barely human, are not without an unruly justice and forgetful righteousness.

More recent arrivals still, the bulb-headed servitors and lathe-men of the inimical Archivists have returned to the dunes from the Alkaline Wastes. They have come in pursuit of the Golden Barge, an artifact of great power that had eluded them through a series of pocket dimensions until it finally lodged on the shore betwixt the dunes. Through cunning machinations, the Archivists have several times extricated the barge and brought it over to the Alkaline Wastes, restoring it with great labors to its splendid magnificence, only to discover—with surprise and amusement—that the temporal eddies had brought it back to its former position and dilapidated state. They are patient and relentless, and even now hatch new plots.

The most recent arrival in the dunes is Ondrj the reaver who has sailed his black galley, the Drowned Queen, to the coast of Ghinor in search of plunder and rapine. He is beloved by Armadad Bog, the Judge of the Deep, for his indiscriminate slaughter and careless cruelty on the seas. As his champion, Ondrj is blessed with the power to shed his shameful two-footed form, assuming at will the terrible splendor of the great white hunter of the depths. The loyalty of his crew of convicts and former brigands is two parts terror and one part awe, supplemented by the promptings of their overfed and unseemly appetites. Having found a clever route through the shoals surrounding the Misty Isles, and a hidden cove in which to conceal his vessel, Ondrj congratulates himself for the wits and strength of will to have located the perfect seat. However, it is the dunes that drew him here for reasons of its own of equipoise and cosmic opposition.

Ondrj's depredations have set in motion larger events. For, striking from the mists surrounding the Misty Isles, he has sunk several Guild vessels from Wolsdag, hauling great plunder back to the dunes. The mercenary vessel outfitted by the Temple of Nephtlys vanished into the mist, ruined on the shoals and turbulent waters surrounding the Misty Isles. The Tempters are hiring willing bands of miscreants to look into the disappearances, hoping to accomplish by land what they have failed to bring about by sea. But the rumors and ingrained superstitions of the locals about the Slumbering Dunes have made the proposition a difficult one to accept. This, in spite of the fact that the dunes are also said to hold countless treasures of earlier times. 

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Indoctrinating the Youth

For the last few years, my wife and I have connected with old friends while on vacation in Cape Cod. The couple has one child, a 12 year old son named Sam. Sam likes board games. Three years ago he introduced me to Hive. Two years ago we all played Settlers of Catan. This past summer he introduced me and my son to Forbidden Island. We talked about war games, and I told him I would send him the pocket edition of Ogre. He seemed enthusiastic. My wife asked if he played D&D, and he remarked that he hadn't, but that he would like to try a game that was so open-ended. Now, introducing someone to D&D isn't like sending them a board game. A proper introduction to our hobby is an initiation. So much of the game is in the sense of how it's played. I thought, if I do it, I want to do it right, the way I wished I had been introduced to the game. I wanted to send the same box to Sam that I would send back in time to my adolescent self. But I knew that meant a big production, and I didn't know if he was really up for that. So when I sent along my copy of Ogre, I included a self-addressed stamped post card I had printed up with the best possible old school goodness. With his permission, I used this awesome illustration by Jez Gordon.

I told him to put it in the mail to me if he wanted me to set him up with everything he would need to properly play D&D. A couple of months later, the postcard made its way back to me. So I put together the box of stuff you see at the top. Here's the letter I wrote him.

Dear Sam,

I have sent you everything you need to start playing Dungeons & Dragons. D&D takes a minimum of 2 to play, but I’ve found it most enjoyable with 4 or 5. So you’ll need to find at least one friend to play with. Here’s how it works. One person plays the role of the dungeon master (DM), also sometimes called referee or judge or game master (GM). The others participants are called players. Each player controls one player character (PC), also referred to as adventurers. Together the PCs make a party or adventuring party. The PC is the heroic—or not so heroic—persona whom the player controls in the game. The player speaks and makes decisions for the PC, acting through him in the world of the game. (D&D is a very sophisticated form of make-believe.) The DM is responsible for everything else. He prepares places full of wonder and adventure for the players to explore: forsaken tombs, ruined cities, foul dungeons, flying islands, sunless caverns, and all the rest. He has the role of setting the scene and narrating the outcomes of the players’ actions, and he plays the role of everyone the PCs meet, including the non-player characters (NPCs) and monsters.

The basic mechanic of D&D is shared storytelling. Typically, the DM will describe a scene and then ask the players, “What do you do?” The players will then tell the DM what actions their PCs take, sometimes speaking in their character’s voice, and sometimes narrating their actions. The DM then adjudicates the outcome of these actions, deciding what would happen, and what the various NPCs would do in response, given their aims and abilities. The DM narrates all this to the players and then turns it over to them once again. It’s all action and reaction, steered by the choices of the players within the narrative framework provided by the DM. The end result is a story with game elements interspersed, such as mapping when exploring a dungeon, and the rolling of dice in combat. The rulebooks explain how all this works, and I put an example of play in the folder as well that I printed out from a different source. It should give you a sense of how the back and forth of the game works.

Given how open-ended a game it is, there are many ways to play D&D. I’m going to tell you my favorite way to do it. In my opinion, the thing that is most fun about D&D is that although there are rules for combat, casting spells, and a few other things, mostly the players can do whatever it is they want to do. This sets D&D apart from any board game or videogame. It’s what is unique about the game. If they want to go west they go west. If they want to explore the sewers, down they go. If they decide they have had enough, they may rob the duke instead of doing his bidding and finishing the job they signed on for. The world is their oyster. However, there are some framing devices that make play possible given this large degree of freedom.

The first is an assumption about the starting motivation of the PCs. They have left ordinary lives as peasants behind to seek fortune and fame as hired swords and explorers of the unknown. The main reward in the game comes in the form of experience points (XP) that will allow their PCs to become more powerful by increasing in level. (The mechanic is now familiar from videogames, but it is original to D&D. Videogames were shaped by D&D, not the other way around.) XP is acquired by defeating monsters and finding treasure, but mainly by finding treasure. So the initial goal is to hire their services out for money, or to haul treasure out of forgotten tombs. Each gold piece (GP) acquired is equal to 1 XP. This sounds reductive and mechanical, since the method of advancing is based on greed and self-interest. This is all true, but in my experience, it leads to a very enjoyable game of low cunning. Initially, the PCs are characters like Indiana Jones or Han Solo. Their relationship to one another is like that of Han Solo and Chewbacca: they’re in it together against the world. When the PCs become more powerful, and come to interact with the world and its inhabitants, they will naturally acquire many other goals than mere wealth, and the game will shift emphasis organically. Eventually they may be participating in revolution or defending the world against some unholy threat. If they want to.

The second thing is that everyone works from a map. The PCs have a home base. You start by presenting them with a set of adventure hooks: rumors about points of interest to explore on the map around the home base. They’re called “hooks” because you’re always dangling a bunch of them in front of players, and if they bite you reel them in to the adventure. So to start a game, you need four things: some characters, a map, a set of adventure hooks, and a description of their home base. I’ve given you everything you need to get started.

Here’s what’s in this box. First off I’ve included the very books that I learned to play D&D from. 

These are the two red books with the dragon on them. They are geared towards beginners and will do an excellent job of teaching you how to play. However, they’re not a complete game, since they only cover the rules for low-level characters. So I’ve also included the Labyrinth Lord rulebook. Labyrinth Lord is what’s called a retro-clone. Retro-clones are new presentation of old school versions of D&D, in this case the same version as the red books. Retro-clones were devised so that people could continue playing older versions of the game after they were out of print. Unlike the red books, Labyrinth Lord is a complete game covering all levels of play. It is also more rationally and straightforwardly organized than the red books and directed at an older audience. So you’ll probably find it useful. The reason I’ve sent you this old stuff is (1) it’s simpler than the latest version of D&D (5th edition), (2) I think it’s a better game than the newer editions, and (3) all the stuff I have sitting around is for older editions. (If you stick with the hobby, you can eventually check out the latest edition, if you want to.)

After the red books or labyrinth lord, you should read the Tomb of the Iron God and the Tower of the Stargazer. These are what are called “modules”. Modules are premade adventures. (They’re called modules because they’re pieces you can pop into any game.) They are both excellent first adventures to DM and play. They should give you a good sense of what an adventure is like. Finally, you should read around in the Village of Hommlet module, describing the home base for your PCs. It’s a classic, written by Gary Gygax, one of the two inventors of D&D. (Below I provide you with some suggestions about how to use Hommlet, since it’s a little more complicated than the other modules.) 

In the folder, I’ve included two maps that you can use to represent the area around Hommlet. One is a “Judge’s Map” (i.e. a DM’s map) that has more geopgraphical information on it, and another is a “Player’s Map”. The idea is that they can fill in the blank spots on the map, drawing in terrain and locations as they discover them. I’ve already placed Hommlet, the Tomb of the Irong God, and the Tower of the Stargazer on both maps. As you’ll see, I put some more stuff on the DM’s map for your eyes only. Once you’ve read this material, you can take a look at my suggestions about how to run Hommlet below.

The Very First Session

When you start playing, the first order of business will be to have your players create characters. There are some character sheets in the SEIU folder. Next you should present the players with the player’s map showing them the location of Hommlet, the Tower of the Stargazer and the Tomb of the Iron God. Tell them that they’ve come to Hommlet in the hopes of making their fortune and name as adventurers. They have heard about several opportunities for adventure and exploration in the region. Provide them with the following hooks. Make sure they have all of them.

Hook 1: One of the PCs (either a cleric or thief) has heard rumors that there was a monastery near to Hommlet devoted to an obscure funerary cult, “The Tomb of the Iron God”. It was recently destroyed in some kind of fire. The treasures belonging to countless generations of the entombed lie in the catacombs beneath the monastery, presumably ripe for the taking.

Hook 2: One of the PCs (either a magic-user or elf) has heard rumors of a wizard’s tower in the wilderness about a day’s journey from Hommlet. The wizard was an eccentric recluse known as The Stargazer. He has not been seen for a generation, and he has likely met an unnatural end. If his strange tower is intact, it will likely contain many of his valuable contrivances and wizardly gear.

Hook 3: [More of a rumor than a hook] One of the PCs (a fighter, dwarf or Halfling) has heard that Hommlet is near the site of a battle fought several generations ago against the city of Nulb. The Nulbians were cultists of the Princes of Elemental Evil—a hideous religion. Somewhere nearby Hommlet there is an outpost of the Nulbians called the Moat House that was destroyed in a great siege.

After that you can pick up with the player’s entrance into Hommlet.

Running Hommlet

I think running Hommlet will be the hardest thing at first, since it’s so open ended, there are so many different important players, and Gygax provides so much unnecessary detail without ever really saying what’s going on. I’ve used it several times, and think it’s great. My main advice about running Hommlet is that you shouldn’t make a big deal about it at first. It’s a quiet town, with an Inn, where the PCs can acquire information about the places they’re going to visit, and buy equipment. Try to get the players to the doorstep of the Tomb of the Iron God or the Tower of the Stargazer pretty quickly without too much fuss in town. Over time, you can slowly make Hommlet come to life.

I’ll tell you how I run Hommlet. (It involves playing up the latent political conflicts in town to make it a more interesting place.) The important things about the Village of Hommlet to keep in mind are the following:

(1) There is an Inn, where PCs will be staying. (The inn has a sexist name that I recommend you change, perhaps “Ostler’s” will do after the Inn’s owner.) The Inn is the only restaurant and bar in town, and is the center of the village social life. Here the PCs can gather information (rumors) about the places they want to explore and hire retainers. The owner of the Inn is one of the main good guys in town, but he plays his cards close to his chest.
(2) The town is divided into two groups along religious lines. The first and largest group is the long-term residents. They are druids who follow an ancient pagan religion centered on the worship of nature. They are democratically organized and maintain a citizen militia, a holdover from the time generations ago when the town rose up against the Nulbians. Ostler is one of the leaders of this faction.
(3) The second group consists of new transplants from Verbobonc. They are worshippers of Saint Cuthbert, a fussy and moralistic religion with an organized church hierarchy. The Viscount of Verbobonc has decreed that a church to Saint Cuthbert be built in the town to plant the seed of the true faith. He has also granted jurisdiction over the town to a wizard named Burne who is to be addressed as “Your Most Worshipful Mage of Hommlet”. Burne has taken up residence there with his companion, a fighter named Rufus who commands a force of rough soldiers—former brigands—called “the Badgers”. Rufus and Burne are currently building a castle in Hommlet. The priests of Saint Cuthburt, Burne, and the others, are not bad people, but they do represent the feudal powers that hold dominion over the region.
(4) There is tension about all this. The druidic citizens do not approve of these developments, but nor have they decided to actively oppose it. For one, they do not feel themselves powerful enough to resist the Viscount’s agents. And for another, they’re becoming worried that with evil forces on the move, their homespun militia may not be enough. There is a secret council that crosses faction lines, composed of Ostler, the leader of the militia, the Canon Terjan, and Burne. Although tensions run high, the council has thus far been able to work together to resolve problems as they arise.
(5) There is a druid named Jaroo who is currently holding services in the sacred grove. As I imagine him, he is like Aragorn or Gandalf. He’s an agent of a secret organization of good guys (the Hierophants of Gnarly Woods). He’s a very busy man, keeping tabs on a million things, and always away on missions. He’s interested in Hommlet because he has come to suspect that it’s happening again: somehow the evil forces that gathered in the area generations ago are once again on the move, and the Temple of Elemental Evil may be rebuilt once again. He’s looking to put ordinary people in motion to discover what is happening and put an end to it. He can be a powerful ally to the PCs if he comes to trust them. He is in contact with Ostler and the druidic faction.
(6) On the other side, there are several agents of the Cult of Elemental Evil in town. The main culprits are the bickering odd couple Gremag and Ranos Davl who run the shop where adventurers will buy and sell their goods. They will try to keep tabs on the adventurers, and to warn Lareth the Beautiful if the PCs are preparing an expedition to the Moat House. Ranos and Gremag will try to get the PCs to hire people from their store who they will use to spy on the party.

The main trick I would use is to slowly bring the place to life is to introduce an event each time the PCs return to town after adventuring. For example, while the PCs were away, perhaps Burne has decreed that everyone now must tithe to the Church of Saint Cuthbert, and the long-term residents are angry. Or maybe some of the Badgers are in Ostler’s the night the PCs return, getting drunk and abusing townspeople. The PCs can turn the other way, or help out the townsfolk, with consequences either way. Or perhaps the bandits from the Moat House have become bolder striking merchants along the road, and Burne is offering a hefty reward for information leading to their capture.

The other trick I would employ is to think about how the different groups in town will react to the actions of the PCs. For example, if they ask a lot of questions about the Tomb of the Iron God, and then come back to town weighted with gold and trying to sell the jewelry, some people may surmise that they’re looting the town’s ancestral tombs. On the other hand, if they tell the townspeople about the walking dead, the townspeople are likely to offer them aid in putting to rest their loved ones. You should think about how Ranos Davl and Gremag, or Ostler and Jaroo will respond to their actions.

One word of warning about running the module. Gygax has many powerful NPCs, one good, but most evil, trying to worm their ways into the adventuring party. You should keep that to a minimum. The evil characters will destroy an inexperienced party, and having powerful allies directing the group will make your players feel like you’re pulling all the strings.

Email me any time. I’d be delighted to answer any questions, or just hear how things are going. Like I said before, I think Dungeons and Dragons is probably the greatest game ever created. Imagine the hell out of it!