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Thursday, 29 September 2016

The Temple of Elemental Evil - part 1

And so into one of the legendary OD&D modules with the kids. The ToEE (T1-4) was one of those iconic modules I recall as a teenager mainly because T1 (Village of Hommlet) had been out for what seemed an age before the rest arrived. It was released as a 'super-module' in an era where the ethos of OD&D changed from simply providing a setting populated by monsters and traps to one with a story/ narrative.

Now I love both aspects of play, but I find the down side of the latter can be that players get railroaded through, as there's often only one real way to make the story work. This was much the case in the Dragonlance series, and in the re-working of A1-4 and G1-3/D1-3/Q1. For my part, the kids had already started T1 a few years ago before our playing was de-railed by them arguing all the time! So this time around, I went straight for the dungeon with a fresh mission and a mild tweak to some of the locations in the vast dungeon....

So, our heroes are: Elangos (half-drow assassin), Crue (elven mage), Vicdak (half-orc fighter-cleric, and general hard-ass), Emelia (half-elf mage-thief), Loren (half-elf paladin of Pelor), Loki (human ranger) and Gideon (NPC cleric of Pelor). The intro I wrote them was as follows....

Fireseek CY577

The deep snows of winter ground the normally vibrant streets of Verbobonc to a frigid halt. After three weeks in the city, having brought in the New Year, you are itching to find of the urgent task that has brought you so far north.

It had been mid-Autumn, in the end of Patchwall, when the novelty of a house in Saltmarsh had run dry and the desire to return north had crept in. The merchant ship had sailed north from Keoland, skirting the treacherous coats of the Pomarj, and its infamous slaver lands, and followed the Wild Coast to Safeton, the homelands of Vicdak. By this time the first snows of Sunsebb had begun, but an urgent summons for Gideon and Loren from the Temple of Pelor in the City State of Verbobonc had dragged you from the warmth of Safeton and across the Gnarley Woods and Kron Hills.

A few minor skirmishes on the journey kept you occupied. The slaver ships notorious for raiding the Wild Coast had got braver, pushing inland as far as the northern Gnarley Woods. Their misguided attempt to spring a trap on the caravan that you all accompanied resulted in Vicdak and Loki competing in who could kill the most slavers in one battle. Astonishingly, and much to Loren's disapproval, it was a draw.

Enjoying some hospitality from the gnomes in the Kron Hills, you reached Verbobonc in time for the yuletide festival of Needfest. The small city, capital of the Viscounty of Verbobonc, sits on the Velverdyva River and enjoys a healthy trade with the gnomes of the hills, the nearby walled city of Dyvers and the great kingdom of Furyondy to the north. As with many cities in the north it has a temple to the sun god, Pelor, although meagre in size compared to the huge edifices in Ulek, and it was this church that provided shelter through the vibrant festival.

Whereas Loki, Vicdak, and Emelia enjoyed the festivities Crue spent his time more constructively. Huddled away in the moderate library of the Viscount Wilfrick, Crue sought more information on the bizarre appearance of the masked wizard in the underwater layer of the Sahaugin. There seemed little to find on wizards wearing masks, save the association between mummer's masks and the elven god, Erevan Ilesere. Of the trident, Wave, there was slightly more: crafted by the sea elves of the Sea of Gearnat, originally as a weapon of their god, Sashelas, it became a weapon in the fight against demons and devils in the hands of holy warriors, such as paladins. It had been lost for nearly a hundred years, seemingly destroyed in a naval battle between the Holy Warriors of Procan (God of the Sea) and the evil forces of the witch Iggwilv, on Lake Quag, in Perrenland.

Crue knew that to find more he would have to seek a larger library, whether back in Ulek, or to the east in Dyvers or Greyhawk. Accepting this, he re-joined the others for the much anticipated meeting with the High Priest of Pelor, Tarin Hyret, at the grand cathedral of Pelor.

Tarin was a trouble man. Originally from the Shield Lands that ran between the foul Empire of Iuz and the fair kingdom of Furyondy, Tarin had been sent south to Verbobonc when his temple was sacked by a horde of bugbears. His wrinkled face reflects many of the fears of the Furyondy folk: three years ago the Crown Prince of Furyondy, Prince Thromell, went missing following a battle against the forces of Iuz. His betrothed, Jolene of Veluna, is now in mourning and open once more to suitors and the potential force for good that a unification of two great nations would bring has disappeared on the wind.

Yet Tarin's fears are more local. Four months ago, in late summer, he received word from an agent in Nulb, who worked for both him and the Viscount, that there had been secret traffic spotted near the ruined Temple of Elemental Evil near Nulb. Accordingly, Tarin dispatched a party of adventurers, led by his daughter, Allis, priestess of Pelor, to investigate. The months have passed, but no word has come and the Viscount's agents have not seen Allis or her companions.

Elangos, hailing from the far northern region of Tenh, had only limited knowledge of the Temple. With a sad smile, Loren recounted the fell history of the place. In CY569, eight years ago, the forces of good (humans of Furyondy and Veluna; dwarves of the Lortmil Mountains; gnomes of the Kron Hills; and elves from Ulek, and Celene) fought the foul denizens of the Temple near the village of Homlett, south of Verbobonc. Defeating the evil army on the Fields of Emridy Meadows, the armies besieged the Temple and defeated, then trapped the demoness, Zuggotmy. The Temple was sealed, and left ruined. Loren served in the human army, one of the Crusaders setting the orcs and gnolls to the sword.

If there was a chance that Allis was lost in the ruins of the Temple, then Loren knows he must investigate, and so too must Gideon. The pair accepts High Priest Talin's mission, and only on insistence from Emelia and Elangos, the fee that he will provide for such a service.

And so to the Temple…

The first session was a brief journey to the Temple south from Verbobonc and into the Kron Hills. The weather is turning cold and foggy, and in the mists they encounter a strange group of pilgrims, all with pale features and white hair. The pilgrims are tricky to talk to, and seem fascinated by Vicdak, who's half-Suel/ half-orc. The eagle-eyed Elangos spots one of the pilgrim's dagger is coated in blade venom, and a scrap breaks out.

The pilgrims are the Scarlet Brotherhood, the nutty Suel-supremacists (sort of Greyhawk Nazis), who in this era (pre-Greyhawk Wars) are a largely unknown quantity. They've been tasked by one of Iuz's (half-demon ruler of an evil empire) chosen warriors to gather information on the theft of a sword, Blackrazor, by the wizard, Keraptis.

The scrap doesn't push the characters as much as I'd thought, and they find on the bodies several useful items: bracers of defence, which Crue takes; a Gem of Seeing, which Emelia grabs; and a letter...


Fair Greeting to Lord Gryst, Scion of Iuz

It is with heavy heart that our great network has failed to locate the whereabouts of the fabled blade, Blackrazor. It's dreadful reputation is surely matched only by the passion the blade ignites in your fell heart, my Lord.

Our Brotherhood have had greater success in the identification of the vile miscreant who stole your blade. The method of its theft, the destructive use of sorcery, and the mask he wore have led us to identify him as Keraptis. A Suel sorcerer of old, his history is handed down in legends preserved amongst only the purest of Suel supremacists such as our Brotherhood. Yet, Keraptis was only truly half-Suel, an aberration of elven and Suel blood, and it is reputed the impure blood that flowed in his ancient veins was that of the Elven deity,  Erevan Ilesere.

Keraptis's manipulations and trickery earned him a dark reputation amongst the Suel, though his last act of sorcery was in the far off lands north of the Nyr Dyv, near eight hundred years ago. We would surmise that an imposter adopts his visage, although there is the small chance that Keraptis's insanity has returned.

We are certain the value of this information is apparent to you, and your dread father, and a return of those secrets we require shall be forthcoming.

With respect
The Father of Obedience

So the mystery of Keraptis, who the characters encountered in U3 when he purloined the trident, Wave, deepens. Armed with this info, and a chunk of cash from the Scarlet Brotherhood the party continue their journey and skirt the town of Nulb (a grotty pit of vice) and head towards the 'ruined' Temple. The Ranger Knight, Otis, approaches them under cover of gloom and shares what little he knows of Allis and her group. Allis had journeyed into the Temple with five others about two months ago, but nothing has been heard since. Otis is certain there is activity inside the Temple, but his remit is one of spying not assault. He offers his followers, three Brownies, to guide the characters to the Temple. With their range of concealment (camouflage from the pseudo-dragons, a ring of invisibility that Elangos uses, and a darkness spell) they manage to get to the main door without the brigands in the watchtower spotting them.

The main door is sealed with runes and magical protection and the characters wisely avoid trying to break in this way. Rather they jemmy open the side door, and enter the vast Temple... or at least that tiny proportion of the Temple that exists above ground...

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

U3: The Final Enemy

The heroes finally made it to the third adventure in the trilogy, and one of the tougher modules in first edition DnD. In the last installment the characters assaulted the lair of the lizardmen whom they had discovered were purchasing arms from local smugglers near the town of Saltmarsh in Keoland. After a moderate amount of green gore and treasure grasping they discovered that the lizardmen were trying to form an alliance with other underwater humanoids to tackle a tribe of Sahaugin who had invaded their home on the border of Keoland and The Hold of the Sea Princes.

The module opens with the characters once more before the Saltmarsh council, discussing a reconnaissance mission along with a unit of lizardmen warriors and human marines. For a substantial fee the seven agree to enter the Sahaugin base and scope out the number of enemies, defences, leadership and so forth. Without further ado, the seven sail towards their mission....

To recap, we have Elangos (half-drow assassin), Crue (elven mage), Vicdak (half-orc fighter-cleric, and general hard-ass), Emelia (half-elf mage-thief), Loren (half-elf paladin of Pelor), Loki (human ranger) and Gideon (NPC cleric of Pelor). They also have the Sea Elf, Oceanus, with them.

They notice on arrival, during the daylight, that the sea level has risen up the side of the island that houses the lair. Instructing the ship to keep a fair distance, as the Sahaugin 'sea devils' may come patrolling, the characters, lizardmen, and marines land onto the causeway and enter the lair. Straight off they battle some Sahaugin guards, with some others through a lowered gate taking pot shots. Crue and Emelia dispatch their pseudo-dragon familiars through the bars and into the second chamber to activate the mechanism controlling the gate.

As the gate raises, the characters scrabble under and tackle the second room of guards whilst the lizardmen fight the first room full. The battle is swift and bloody, and moving from here the group explore the upper level. They find little beyond the alterations and building work that the Sahaugin and their slaves have done, taking notes on the layout and rooms. With luck they find a near-dead adventurer who tells them, in his dying breath, of the equipment of his deceased colleagues. With a bit of searching they find the hidden room, and the hoard of magic items that generate a rather long debate about who should get the Wand of Polymorph. Ultimately, Emelia grabs the wand and Elangos the cloak of the manta ray, and Vicdak the Ring of Free Action. With a few water breathing potions also discovered, they begin to wonder about what these items indicate.

It becomes apparent in the next room, after defeating the Sahaugin guards and freeing some slaves, as the stairs down to level two slosh with sea water. Emelia smartly uses the wand to polymorph Loren, Loki, Vicdak and herself into Sea Elves, with the potions shared between Crue and Gideon. And then they descend into the depths, slowed by the non-polymorphed members.

Moving through the murky depths the heroes headed south, discovering some rooms normally occupied by Sahaugin who are downstairs at the arena. They do find one chieftain who they kill quickly, and then a huge chamber full of women which they wisely avoid. Heading back north they stumble upon the vestry and quarters of the priestesses, who they discover in the temple about to engage in Sahaugin eugenics. A huge scrap kicks off with the characters focusing on the clerics, whilst the lizard men tackle the shark (by cunningly trying to get eaten and choke it...). Taking a few lumps, the players slay the priestesses, and bag the loot.

So with some quick healing, they swim further onwards and into a huge pillared chamber and then creeping to the portal into the throne room wherein are the toughest Sahaugin, including Baron, his elite guards, and the high priestess. Oh, and a shark.

A drama is unfolding: two Sahaugin are showing an unearthed stature to the Baron, and in its stony clutches is a glittering trident. As the players watch a robed figure materialises. He wears a mask, like  a Venetian mask with a joker-style leer. With a flourish he pulls loose the trident, is heard to say (through the water) "Ah, Wave, at last." And disappears.

The Baron looks about furiously as to where his newly discovered artefact had gone. And he sees the characters looking equally stunned. An epic scrap follows, with both the four-armed Baron and the pesky priestess proving tough to kill. But, with a few wounds, and a few dead lizardmen, they win! The Barons loot is discovered, and his vile missus is killed on discovery.

After this climax the adventurers head down and discover a barracks, and rather worryingly several score of Sahaugin pissed about their dead boss. The chase is on, and the characters barely escape the lair with the remaining lizard men, and the marines who had secured level 1. The boat comes to fetch them and they outrun the Sahaugin, returning to Saltmarsh with what info they've gathered and the news that the Sahaugin command are dead.

With the reward, treasure, and XP for killing some tough baddies, the characters all increase in level - and with a house in Saltmarsh as a gift, they gain somewhere to rest and recover....

The six characters are doing really well. Charlie's three are tough: Vicdak is a combat monster, now gaining double specialisation (from Unearthed Arcana); Crue is fourth level MU, with a big range of spells that I think Charlie plays a little too cautious, but who'll be rock-hard when he gets to 5th (fireball time); Elangos, although not as tough, now has a Ring of Invisibility, which is a big boost to an assassin.

Evelyn's trio are developing personality-wise. Emelia's thief abilities are a real bonus to the party, and she seems to do well in combat. I can see her being fun for some solo adventures. Loki has also gained a double specialisation level, with his skill being in the longsword. Loren, as a paladin 4 gains some great abilities, and his persona is evolving well. He's got a great AC as befits a righteous Crusader of Pelor. I think the ToEE will test them when they hit the second level and below.

And so onto the next classic... the Temple of Elemental Evil, and more revelations about the mysterious masked sorcerer (and his ultimate link to White Plume Mountain).

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Greyhawk Adventures book 1: Saga of the Old City

As I'm re-visiting my adolescent love of Dungeons and Dragons, and running the adbetures in the World of Greyhawk, it seemed appropriate to read the books that Gary Gygax, Godfather of DnD, and latterly Rose Etes, wrote. From the outset it's fair to say that this particular book is probably only of interest to those with a background or curiosity about the hobby. Even compared to other DnD books (Paul Kidd's DnD classic module offerings, and Salvatore's dark elf books) it's not the best of the bunch. But to a fan of Gygax, and the magic he created with Dungeons and Dragons, whether the manuals, the modules, or the world of Greyhawk, it's fun reading.

The hero is Gord the Rogue, a solid adventuring thief who we follow from humble beginnings as a cutpurse and beggar-thief in the sprawling City of Greyhawk. The first section of the book takes us along his early encounters, fleshing out the City vividly, and Gord's involvement in a 'turf war.' Gord comes across as a likeable character, with a suitable charm and wit, and his tricks and scams make easy reading.

The middle third of the book then takes us on a tour of Gygax's world, with Gord adventuring, romancing, and scrapping his way from Greyhawk City, across the vast Nyr Dyv, and then around the Bandit Lands, Urnst, the Theocracy of the Pale, Nyrond, and ultimately to the edge of the Great Kingdom. Now to me as a gamer currently reading the source material of the Flanaess, and Greyhawk, this was a great tour—the depth and detail to each area is a real bonus. But for a more casual reader the lack of a central driving plot beyond a series of vaguely related encounters could be frustrating. The plot through this stage feels half way between a bunch of DnD scenarios and a travelogue. We do get some development of him as a character, but rarely a decent in depth insight into him that a book this length should provide.

In fact the lack of a real purpose beyond Gord getting some cool weapons, picking up skills, and ducking/diving, is a real weakness. The book has a patched together episodic feel, which I suppose in some ways emulates the pulp fantasy that inspired Gygax's original DnD game (Robert E Howard, Fritz Leiber, Moorcock). I could just imagine reading  it serialised in Dragon magazine.

In the last third of the novel Gord links up with some more substantial characters: Gellor, a mysterious spy/bard; Chert, a barbarian (reminiscent of Fafhrd, from Lankhmar); and Curly, a plump bald druid-ranger (my favourite). We then get a trip out to a dungeon, and a suitably nasty demon to sort out. This part of the book at least had the right balance of action, purpose, characters and humour. It felt as if Gygax had got into the swing of things, and as I recall from Book 2, he continued this momentum and developed a fairly solid plotline.

So much in the way that superhero origin films never feel all that good, as they establish a history and a setting, this book is very much an intro, both to the world and to the character who ultimately sees us through five or so books (as Gygax departed TSR). It's a 4 star for fans, probably a 3 star for those DnD-naïve.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

U2: Danger at Dunwater

And the adventure continues with the kids' party of six:

Loren: half-elf Paladin of Pelor (a Crusader) from Celene
Loki: human ranger from Duchy of Geoff
Emelia: half-elf thief-magic user from County of Ulek
Vicdak: half-Orc fighter-cleric of We Jas. His mother was Suel, hailing from the Wild Coast
Crue: elf Magic-user, from County of Ulek
Elangos: half-elf drow assassin (Flan origins on human side, from Duchy of Tenh, then onto Greyhawk city)

Having trained now to second level (and in some cases, third) the refreshed characters and their mentor, Gideon, are sent by the Council of Saltmarsh to investigate the Lizardmen threat gathering at the swampy mouth of the Dunwater River. The smugglers in U1 (Secret of Saltmarsh) were found to be running quality arms to these Lizardmen, and naturally the Council are scared about attack. It seems swifter to send the characters than lobby the King for aid, especially given that Saltmarsh is on the fringes of Keoland, and very close to the border of the Hold of the Sea Princes.

Taking a small boat, the players sail along the coast and land in the swamp. They have gained some very useful assistance in the form of Pseudo-dragon familiars, and this allows several of their number (most usefully Emelia the theif-mage) to become camouflaged. The gang enter the Lizardmen lair via the main entrance, immediately scrapping with the guards. They beat them fairly convincingly, then tackled the second wave from the adjacent room.

With a swift bit of healing they continued into the lair--moving first into a Banqueting Hall, where they encountered some of the Lizard females. Crue sent them off to sleep with a spell, and the party tied them up with rope and gags. Exiting the Hall, they then came into the Throne Room where two kids were playing. Deciding that they (a) would loose a ton of XP for bumping off the kids, and (b) didn't want the kids stalking them, they grabbed them, tied them up and bunged them in the Hall with the mums.

Back into the corridors, Emelia scouted ahead and found more lizard women cooking in the kitchens. The bloodthirsty adventurers were tiring of these non-combatants! Back into the corridors, the party move around to the east and come into the barracks, wherein they find nine warriors and a shaman. An almighty scrap ensues, driven by the shaman's fervent hatred of humans/ elves as heretics and infidels. Emelia disables one of the warriors with a sleep, and when the battle ends, they question him. At this point they learn that the Lizardmen are actually living in exile from their prior home, and that there is argument between clergy and the Minister about humans and whether they are enemies or not.

It's at this point the adventurers realise that the Lizardmen aren't the big enemy. Given the trail of green blood and orphans they've just left behind, it is with some trepidation they go to make peace with the Chieftain. A big discussion ensues, and ultimately the party accept that to recompense the Lizardmen (a weregild) they must perform a task: to slay a Giant Crocodile that the Lizardmen can't tackle due to religious reasons.

So, out into the swamps and what begins as a battle against a huge crocodile is soon joined by an Oriental Dragon. It's a close battle (see Hidden Dragon ), but the characters prevail and return to Saltmarch with cash, a few choice items ( a periapt of proof against poison, a magic sword, and some potions). And the conclusion to the adventure awaits, in The Final Enemy.