Using Miniature Figures

July 24th, 2016

While fantasy role-playing games (FRGs) can be played merely by saying what everyone in the party is doing, most groups end up using some kind of miniature figures to mark the location of the character in certain situations. When I first started playing Dungeons & Dragons way back in 1979, players just gave verbal descriptions of where their character was located, especially in battles. Then we started using Legos and Lincoln Logs to mark the location of rooms and hallways, and used any kind of markers that were handy, such as coins, bottle caps, dice, etc, to mark where different characters and monsters were located.

Then I discovered “Zargonian Creatures,” which were 2-dimensional cardboard standup figures that slipped into plastic bases. When punched out of their cardboard frame, each (standard-sized) figure is 1.5 inches tall and 0.75 inch wide. You can find some of the Zargonian sets on eBay, but about the only place I found that still has stock on the original sets is Noble Knight Games.

Zargonian Creature Set 1-Dwarves-reduced quality

Zargonian Creatures (Dwarves).

However, when I stopped playing D&D in 1982, I loaned all of my Zargonian figures to a friend, and never asked for them back. Then, when I got back into playing D&D recently, I tried to track down that old friend, only to sadly find out he had died about 4 years before I tried to contact him. I was trying to contact him for 2 reasons, one, to try to get those Zargonian figures back, and two, to try to enlist him in the new D&D campaign, as he was a good D&D player. But neither of those was now an option.

Well, I still had several sets of plastic bases from the Zargonians, so I started using various cardstock figures that I could print on my color laser printer. These figures could be folded over and glued, and then inserted into the Zargonian bases. I found that most two-thickness cardstock was not thick enough to stay firmly stuck in the plastic bases, though, so added a few more layers of cardstock at the bottom of the figures so they would stay attached to the bases when you picked them up by the figure. There are plenty of places online to find various printable cardboard figures. Two of my favorite places to get cardboard figures are the Darios figures at Dark City Games, which are free, and the paid Cardboard Heroes from Steve Jackson Games.

Darios Adventurers

Darios Adventurers.


Cardboard Heroes

Steve Jackson Games Cardboard Heroes (sample).

The Darios and Steve Jackson figures also have some advantages over the old Zargonians in that they are two-sided, and you can tell a character’s front from its back. The Zargonians were just blank cardboard on their backs and so it was hard to tell which figure was which. The newer figures also have much more detail in their drawing, which is probably partly because the printing technology is better today.

There are various places you can buy plastic or wood bases for the cardboard figures online, also. The cardstock figures are good, too, for when you need a lot of some particular type of character or creature as you can print off extra sheets.

But recently I got into using some metal miniatures. I somehow or other accumulated about 5 or 6 metal (25mm or 28mm) miniatures over the years. I believe I accumulated them when helping the Metro Detroit Gamers clean up the venues at the end of their game conventions, finding them left behind on the floor. (I also own exactly one card (the Forest) for Magic: The Gathering, having also found that card on the floor while cleaning after a game con.) But I got the chance to buy about 40 or 50 old metal miniatures recently for only $10. They are mostly old Grenadier minis, but one set was from Ral Partha (although the figures were all intermixed). So then I borrowed my sister’s acrylic craft paints and started painting away. Fortunately, I am an old model builder from way back, although I haven’t painted anything for years, especially not anything as small as these figures.

I did read up on some mini painting techniques at the excellent web site at I did wash the figures thoroughly, even had to remove some old paint using 91% isopropyl alcohol and a toothbrush (using an old aluminum pie pan). Of course I wore a latex examination glove to keep my skin oils off the minis. I then glued the minis to wooden bases, then painted each figure and its base with white acrylic primer, then after the primer was dry started painting. I kept using an exam glove on the hand that was holding the figure I was painting.

Painting table

Dining room table, used as a painting table.


Partially painted miniature figures

Partially painted miniature figures.

We then finally started using the metal minis in our D&D campaign on July 24, but only for the main characters. For NPCs and monsters we’re still using the cardstock figures. Here’s a picture taken by one of our players on their cellphone of the metal minis all bunched up. There are a couple of the cardstock figures in the background.

Metal minis (photo by PF Anderson).

Metal minis (photo by PF Anderson).

The three figures in the front are (from L-to-R), Opalent, Lightstep, and Vandin. Lightstep is not yet finished. I haven’t yet painted his eyes, nor some of the trim on his clothing and accessories.

Anyway, painting the minis is fun, although it can take a lot of time. I can only paint for about 30 minutes at a time, then my neck gets sore from being bent over. I have to use an Optivisor in order to see close enough to paint, and have to sometimes hold the figure and the brush close to my body to prevent wobbly painting. That’s what bothers my neck, as I have to lower my chin to my chest in order to focus with the Optivisor. When I was building models in my 20s, I had 20/13 vision (better than 20/20). I used to scoff, hah! who would need magnifying lenses! But when I hit my mid-40s, I suddenly noticed I had presbyopia and I needed reading glasses. I also found I needed stronger magnification in order to see fine details. I probably should buy a desktop lamp with a large magnifying lens, then I might not have to bend my neck so much.

— The Dungeon Master

The Tomb of Koban Hairfoot – Part 3

June 25th, 2016

This is a continuation of The Tomb of Koban Hairfoot – Part 1, and The Tomb of Koban Hairfoot – Part 2.

Day #2-29 (Fireday, 9th Dewsnap, 4333 BCCC): As we left our intrepid adventurers last time, they had descended to the 2nd level of the Tomb of Koban Hairfoot, and after briefly investigating a rectangular chamber with three skeletons laying about in disarray, they had then proceeded onward. They had come to another door to their left, and Vandin Lakesplitter had forced the door open with a few pushes from his shoulder….

Immediately after forcing the door open, Vandin (carrying a torch along with his shield and hammer), and Tureg, another dwarven fighter (armed with a sword and also carrying a shield) discovered there were some more skeletons in this room, but the skeletons were animated and were coming to attack! Vandin swung his hammer and shattered one skeleton into fragments, but another skeleton felled Tureg with a mighty claw. The halfling cleric Lightstep then entered the room and tried to fend off other skeletons with his small shield and with his hammer, while the halfling thief Falafela snuck into the room in Lightstep’s wake and attempted to drag Tureg out of the room. It was fortunate for the adventurers that the room just inside the door was not very wide, as it kept the skeletons superior numbers from being able to flank the party.

Vandin then swung his hammer and took off a skeleton’s arm at its shoulder, but with its other arm it struck Vandin, doing 4 hit points of damage (out of Vandin’s 6 total hit points). After Falafela dragged Tureg out of the room, Vandin and Lightstep were able to back out of the room and pull the door closed behind them, thus gaining a respite from the attacking skeletons. The party did not hear any sound coming from inside the room, so Lightstep cast a Cure Light Wounds spell on Vandin, but it only cured 1 HP of damage. Then Lightstep cast his only remaining Cure Light Wounds spell, and it fully healed Vandin.

After briefly discussing tactics, the party decided they would only open the door a little so only one skeleton at a time could approach them through the narrowed opening. While Lightstep took Vandin’s torch, Vandin opened the door just enough for a skeleton to start to come through. Whack! A mighty blow from Vandin’s hammer felled that skeleton, and also the next skeleton to come through right on the heels of the first skeleton. But while Vandin was watching that 2nd skeleton fall to the ground to make sure it wouldn’t try to strike him on the way down, another skeleton came through the door and struck Vandin for 5 HP of damage! Opalent then cast her Magic Missile spell at that skeleton. While the spell did 3 points of damage, it did not “kill” the already-undead skeleton. Douag then pushed Vandin out of the way, but before Douag could bring his battleaxe to bear, the skeleton ripped at Douag, striking twice and inflicting 5 hit points of damage. Douag was still in fair shape, though, as he had 11 hit points before being wounded. After a bit more battling, Douag finally chopped the skeleton in half with his axe, and then made sure it was not moving any more after striking it a few more times as it lay at his feet.

The party then waited for several seconds to see if any more skeletons were coming out of the room to do battle, and when none appeared, they made more plans. Lightstep stayed in the hallway with one torch to watch over the wounded Tureg, and the human ranger Clayton also stayed on guard in the hallway outside the room. The other party members cautiously looked into the room, led by human fighter Vox the Just, who kicked the skeleton bones out of the doorway. The room looked like a carbon copy of Koban Hairfoot’s crypt from the level above, as this room was also octagonal in shape, about 30 feet across from one wall to its opposite wall. But this room did not have painted murals on the walls; instead, it had what looked like burn marks and bloodstains on the walls and the floor. And instead of a glass-encased skeleton of Koban Hairfoot resting on a marble table, there was a black obsidian coffin lying on a dark obsidian table. Embossed into the top of the coffin was a symbol of an unknown deity, as well as the word “Reedus.” The party also noticed there were the bones from five skeletons on the floor, although they could only account for killing four of the foul creatures. They knew that Vandin had killed three of the skeletons, and Douag had put down another. Then Lightstep said, “I think I took out one of those infernal creatures while I was shielding Tureg.”

Falafela wanted to inspect the coffin before anyone tried to open its lid, but as she was only 2’8” tall, she had Opalent lift her up for a closer look-see. Falafela and Opalent inspected the coffin carefully, but could detect no sort of trick or trap. While Vandin then also inspected the coffin for any sort of stonework traps, the party had to light two new torches (Vox and Opalent dug into their torch supplies). That also marked they had been in the dungeon for about four hours. Finally, while holding their breath to see what might leap out of the coffin at them, the party opened the lid. They were relieved to not find a body, or a skeleton, or anything else that might have assaulted them. And while the party did not find the Pendant of Winstone, they did find an old, dusty black cloak that was trimmed in gold. It appeared to have been someone’s burial cloak. It did seem weird that it was dusty, although the rest of the room wasn’t very dusty. Opalent picked up the cloak with her 10’ pole. Opalent then searched two of the walls for any secret passages, but found none.

At this time, Clayton poked his head in the room and announced that he thought Tureg was dead, as Clayton could not detect a pulse. While the party was ready to push on and keep searching for the Pendant of Winstone, they didn’t want to just leave Tureg’s body lying about. Vandin, in particular, didn’t want any rats to eat Tureg! Other party members reminded Vandin that they had not seen any vermin (except the skeletons) in the dungeon, but Vandin was adamant. Clayton said, “We could leave Tureg’s body in this coffin until we come back to retrieve him.” A couple of folks thought that was sort of gruesome, as the coffin looked sort of evil, but Clayton then said, “Well, he’s already dead. It couldn’t hurt him any more.” So, the party lifted Tureg, along with all of his possessions (except his torches which Opalent added to her backpack), and placed him in the coffin, and then closed the lid.

The party then piled the skeleton bones around the walls of the room, and then Lightstep took off his backpack and carefully unwrapped the vial of the clear liquid he had found some time ago. He sprinkled about half of the vial on the bones, while saying a few religious words. He probably had about two fluid ounces of the clear fluid remaining in the vial after that. The party then went to the other door of the room that was down a 35’ hallway from the foot of the coffin. As the hinges were on the inside, Vox tried to pull that door open, but failed. He then whacked at the door once with his sword, but as the door was of solid wood with iron reinforcing bands (as was the other door to the room), he quickly decided that it would indeed be futile to keep striking at the door with his sword. Vox figured he would only lose the edge of his blade if he kept slashing at the door. Vandin then came forward, and even in his weakened condition, he only had to strike the door twice with his hammer before busting it open. The party wasn’t worried about making noise at this point, seeing as they had made a lot of noise while fighting the skeletons.

The party now proceeded in the order: Lightstep in front (with a torch), then Vox and Gwenette (another human fighter) in the 2nd rank, then Falafala and Vandin, then Douag and Opalent, and Clayton brought up the rear with another torch. After passing through the shattered door, they saw they had to go to either the right or the left. They went to the right. After about 30 feet, they saw another iron grating in the floor, much like the floor grating from the level above. Just beyond the grate, the hallway turned right, and they could see it led back to the other door of the room they had just exited. Down that hall towards the other door, the hall also turned off to the left, but they decided not to go that way for now. Instead, they went to the left.

After proceeding just more than 10 feet, the hall turned 90 degrees to the right. (By the way, the party were all still creeped out by the skulls that were embedded into the stonework in the floor, and by the streaks of rust and/or blood all over the walls.) About 10 feet past that right turn was an end wall with a wooden door in it. Lightstep just wanted to quickly open the door to see what was on the other side, but Gwenette held him back. Vox then opened the door, which opened easily. Vox stepped through the door, closely followed by Lightstep and Gwenette. There were only three items to be seen in this 20’ x 30’ room: a 4’ x 6’ wooden table with one chair in the center of the room, an old wooden wardrobe, with its two doors open, in the far right corner of the room, and an old dust-covered bed in the far left corner of the room.

After having only a few seconds to look around the room, suddenly a ghastly figure arose from the dusty bedcovers and attacked! It was clearly undead, and while it was partially a skeleton, it still had some fleshy parts on its body. Unfortunately for Vox, he was the closest to the thing, and Vox was quickly struck twice for a total of 7 hit points of damage. Having only 3 HP left, he fell back somewhat. Gwenette and Lightstep then tried to hit the thing, Gwenette with her short sword, and Lightstep with his hammer, but they could not connect as they were more interested in keeping the thing from hitting them. Gwenette, in particular, had to parry the foul creature’s attacks with her sword as she did not carry a shield.

Suddenly, at the back of the party out in the hall was a commotion. Clayton had forgotten to keep looking back from the way that they had come, as he, like the rest of the party, were trying to see what was transpiring inside the room. Before the rear party members could do anything about it, a skeleton clad in a gold and gem-studded robe and wearing a similar crown, pushed its way past the party members. It was the skeleton of Koban Hairfoot, come back to life! Koban rushed to confront the evil being that was battling with Gwenette and Lightstep, pushing them out of the way. Then Koban and his opponent stood toe-to-toe, raining blows upon each other! Koban was wielding his broken mace, and was inflicting terrible damage to his foe, but could not avoid receiving serious blows in return. Finally, the evil being was vanquished, breaking into several pieces as it hit the floor with a thud. Unfortunately for Koban, though, he too was finished. Koban pivoted, looking at the party with the empty eye sockets of his skull, then fell prostrate upon the stone floor. As he fell, he dropped his broken mace and reached out with his right hand and pointed to the wardrobe in the corner.

After the party paused for a moment to take in what had just transpired, Gwenette and Falafela inspected the wardrobe. They looked inside, but all that there was to see were a few tattered old garments that appeared to have no value. Falafela was wondering if the wardrobe was a teleportation device, and started to climb inside, but just to be on the safe side, she kept one foot outside the wardrobe and had Opalent hold on to her. While this was transpiring, Lightstep sprinkled the last of what he was now convinced was Holy Water on the bones of Koban and Koban’s foe, and when the little bit of water touched the bones of Koban’s opponent, some small wisps of smoke arose from those bones. Clayton was now also watching back down the hallway for anyone/anything else that might approach, and Vox was lying on the floor, feeling as if all of his energy had left him. It was also time to light two new torches, marking five hours of dungeon time for the intrepid party.

Opalent then looked around the wardrobe, and finally when she moved it a few inches away from the wall she found a hidden door behind it! The door was only about 4’ high, but Lightstep cautiously opened the door (after the wardrobe had been moved farther away from the wall) and went through, along with a torch. Douag and Gwenette then followed him in. They saw a sort of U-shaped room, about 20 feet across and 30 feet long. At the “U” end of the room, which was to their left, was a small white marble altar. Atop the altar were two gold candlesticks with unburned white candles in them, along with a gleaming gold chalice, and next to the chalice was a bit of jewelry that looked exactly as the Pendant of Winstone had been described to them when they were all back at Karnack’s castle! It was round, about 4 inches in diameter, with a sort of “tab” protruding off one side, and with a 2” diameter black gem in its center. Around its rim, were gold “bubbles.”

Lightstep approached the altar, lit both candles with his torch, and soon was immersed in prayers. After about 10 minutes of prayer, he then reached up and retrieved the Pendant of Winstone and the gold chalice, and wrapped them in cloth and placed them in his backpack. Gwenette said, “Aren’t you going to take the candlesticks?” Lightstep answered, “No. We will leave them to burn down.”

(to be continued)

The Tomb of Koban Hairfoot – Part 2

April 28th, 2016

Read The Tomb of Koban Hairfoot – Part 1 for a refresher of how the adventurers came to be where they are now.

(This adventure is one of a series of adventures of some folks playing Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, using the 1st Edition rules.) Play was suspended in this adventure just before Christmas 2015. It has taken about four months before play was resumed. It seems some of the adventurers or else the dungeon master were all variously sick over the winter and early spring. But finally everyone was healthy and available to play again! When play was suspended, the party was in the dungeon beneath the tomb of Koban Hairfoot. They are all searching for the Pendant of Winstone, a powerful, magical artifact that may be able to cure the villagers of Crystal Shores from their turning into zombies. The party has found the Necklace of Harbinge, and have retrieved it from around the neck of the long dead cleric, Koban Hairfoot. The party had found an underground library just as play was suspended last. Now, to continue….

Day #2-29 (Fireday, 9th Dewsnap, 4333 BCCC): The party spent some time searching the books in the library, more than an hour, in fact. They had Tureg, Douag, Opalent, Lightstep, Gwenette, and Falafela searching through the many books on the shelves, with Vandin holding a torch in the center of the room so folks would have some light. Vox was standing guard in the hallway outside the library with another torch, and Clayton was staying out of everyone’s way. The dwarves Douag and Tureg and the halfling Lightstep, due to their shortness in height, had to limit themselves to searching through books on the lower shelves or to books and papers that were on the floor, but the halfling Falafela stood on one of the two chairs in the room so she could reach higher shelves. The party had to be careful handling most of the books, as most of the books were quite ancient and fragile.

After about 50 minutes of searching, just after two new torches were lit to replace the others that were about to expire, Opalent chanced to find a rolled up scroll behind a couple of books she had just pulled off the shelf. Opalent gave an exclamation of joy and interest, and showed the others what she had found, as when unrolled the scroll seemed to have something to do with the Pendant of Winstone. The scroll had a drawing of what the Pendant had been described as looking like by Karnack when they were all at Karnack’s castle; however, nobody could read the language that was written on the scroll. Opalent carefully rolled up the scroll again and placed it in her backpack for safekeeping. Then the party continued searching. Clayton remarked that it would be quite useful if someday all of the books in this library could be conveyed to Karnack’s castle, although this was not the expedition to accomplish that at this time. After another 20 minutes of searching, Lightstep found an interesting book. It seemed to be a manual containing a workout regimen that could be followed to increase an individual’s strength, agility, and endurance. Although nobody could read the language the workout book was written in, there were plenty of illustrations that made it clear what it was about. Lightstep stashed that book in his backpack. At that, the party felt they had found all that they could for now, and decided to move on with their exploration of the dungeon. Their marching order was Tureg and Vandin in the front row, followed by Falafela and Lightstep, then Gwenette and Opalent, Clayton and Douag, and then Vox brought up the rear. Vandin and Vox each had a torch.

The party then retraced their steps. They took the hallway going left from the library for about 30 feet, turned left, went another 80 to 90 feet, turned right, then went straight for another 70 to 80 feet, passing one of the entrances to Koban Hairfoot’s actual tomb. When they got to the end of this passage, they would have to go either to their right or to their left. They had already come from the left, so they decided to go to the right. They also noticed that at the intersection of the hallways there was an iron grate in the floor. The iron grate seemed to be set solidly into the floor stones, so did not seem like a passage to a different level. They found a small rock to drop through the grate, but they could not hear it hit bottom. They decided to bypass the grate for now and continue on their way.

Upon starting down the right-hand passage, it only went a little more than 10 feet before it branched to the right and left. The party took the passage to the right. After a little more than 50 feet, the hallway turned left, then after 20 feet it opened into a circular chamber that was about 60 feet in diameter. Religious frescoes (somewhat faded) were painted on the walls, and there were a number of shelves that held humanoid skulls upon them. There was also what looked like a marble altar on the far side of the room. What alarmed the party, though, were six skeletal monks wearing tattered brown robes that were standing on guard holding ceremonial scythes, three on each side of the room. The party watched the skeletons carefully to see if they would attack, but they appeared quite lifeless. Finally, Falafela borrowed Vandin’s torch and approached the altar to search for traps. The other members of the party spread out to guard the skeletons in case they were to come to life and try to attack Falafela or anyone else.

After several minutes of examination at the altar, Falafela was satisfied that there were no traps around the altar. In particular, she had been looking for a trap door under the altar. Also, when she got close to the altar, she could see it was made of polished obsidian instead of marble. It had a smooth slab top, with two solid legs, one on each side. Douag then suggested that someone should lie down on the altar to see what happened, and Tureg said to Douag, “You go first, buddy!” Falafela then returned to the party and stated, “I was really scared!” Although some party members were suggesting the party should attack the skeletons before they came to life, Falafela said that the party should instead treat the dead clerics with respect. As the rest of the party had barely ventured into the chamber, Vox asked, “Should we all enter the room and check it out?” Douag said to check out the skeletal monks to see if they had anything of value.

Vandin retrieved his torch from Falafela, and he and Falafela and Opalent then approached the altar. The other six party members each watched one of the six skeletal monks. Opalent retrieved the scroll that described the Pendant of Winstone from her backpack and placed it on the altar, but nothing happened. Then Lightstep approached the altar and took the Necklace of Harbinge from around his neck and placed it on the altar. Similarly to the scroll, nothing happened. Lightstep and Opalent then took back the scroll and necklace and secured them among their possessions once again. Vandin then examined the altar, looking for any irregularities in the stone floor around the altar, but he could detect nothing out of the ordinary.

Opalent then suggested tapping the skeletons with her 10-foot pole, but Vandin suggested smashing the altar instead, and then a general argument ensued. Finally Lightstep cooled everyone down, and suggested leaving the chamber and continuing their explorations. Before leaving, though, Lightstep said some respectful words to the long-dead skeletal clerics. “Rest well, noble warriors, may you continue your eternal vigil forevermore.” The group resumed their marching order of Tureg and Vandin, Falafela and Lightstep, Gwenette and Opalent, Clayton and Douag, and Vox. Vandin and Vox still carried the torches.

The party then returned to the three-way hallway junction near the floor grate, but this time they took the other passage they had not yet explored. After taking that passage, it immediately turned right, went about 50 feet, then turned left. Another 15 feet, and it seemed to veer to the right and left. The party could hear water running, sort of like a running stream of water over rocks. Vandin searched the entrance to this new junction for floor traps, finding none, and then they all took the left-side hallway. They could see a small waterfall of sorts. There was a 6-foot wide recess in the central wall on their right, and water was coming out of a narrow slit in the 10-foot high ceiling. The water then trickled down cobblestones on the vertical wall surface, collecting in a small pool at the bottom. There must have been small drain for the water at the bottom, as it did not overflow the pool. The party also noticed several tubular iron bars across the top of the pool. At about this time the party had to light two more new torches, marking that they had been in the dungeon around three hours so far.

While Opalent was searching around the pool of water in the floor for secret passages, other party members discovered that they were in a sort of octagonal chamber that was about 40 by 50 feet, except the center of the room had a large column that effectively reduced the room to a circular hallway. They could walk around the central wall with the waterfall and return to the room’s entrance. Opalent didn’t find any secret doors, and then Vandin also failed at detecting any sliding stonework doors. By now, they had been in the dungeon about three and a half hours. The party were getting ready to leave this area when Opalent decided to check one more time for any secret doors. She tried pressing on rocks under the waterfall as high as she could reach (which was close to 8 feet high as she is 6’1” tall), when all of a sudden a rock she was pushing on depressed with an audible click. Then Vandin helped Opalent push against the wall, and a secret door was revealed! Vandin held his shield over his head to protect his torch from the waterfall, and he exclaimed, “There are stairs leading down!”

The party descended the stairs in their accustomed marching order. At the bottom of the stairs, the hallway turned 90 degrees to the left. When everyone made it to the bottom, they all felt creeped out. While the stonework of the walls was of much the same construction as the upper level, these walls (and the floor) were covered with numerous streaks of iron rust and what looked to be dried blood. In addition, there were many humanoid skulls inset with the floor stones! It was also eerily quiet, with no dust or cobwebs. Everyone could feel the hair stand up on the backs of their necks. Lightstep asked, quietly, “Does anyone else feel a chill run down their spine?” Tureg answered, “Yes!”

The party started down a long, straight hallway. After about 40 yards, the hallway turned 90 degrees to the right. It then went straight for another 30 yards, although there was a side hallway to the right about 30 feet down the hall. They could see that this side hall led into a chamber, and that the former door to that chamber had been charred to cinders. Looking into the room, it was about 20 feet deep and 30 feet wide, with three charred skeletons on the floor. One of the skeletons was pointing to a charred, broken podium that was lying on its side. There was also a broken Circle of Protection on the floor, as well as a burned book. The book appeared like the fire had started inside it and burned its way out through the cover.

Falafela carefully examined the broken Circle of Protection, and then the charred podium, but found nothing of interest. Opalent wanted to examine the burned book, but Lightstep tried to talk her out of that action. Douag said that Opalent should examine the book, but when all was said and done, Opalent decided to leave the book alone. They all then left the room and continued on down the dark hallway. They turned the 90-degree corner to their right, went another 30 feet, then the hallway widened to 20 feet wide for 30 feet. There was also a recessed door on their left. Vandin checked that door, and was able to open it with several pushes of his shoulder….

This is where play had to be suspended. What lies behind the door? What other surprises lie in wait for our intrepid party of adventurers? Stay tuned for future adventure postings!

(to be continued)

Remember: The Dungeon Master is Always Right!

February 27th, 2016

Now, to play Dungeons & Dragons, or any other fantasy role-playing game, is to lose oneself in an alternate world that was created by the “Dungeon Master” (aka “Game Master,” “Referee,” et al). Some times players forget that fact. If the DM says what you can see, you can always ask questions, but once the DM clarifies those questions, move on in the game — don’t start arguing with the DM!

I mentioned how I stopped being our group’s DM back in 1982 when I started going to college. I didn’t have the time to adequately prepare the dungeon adventures, what with having lots of homework, and working full-time, in addition. So, one of the other players became our new DM.

During an adventure with our new DM at the helm, our group was trying to sneak up on the entrance to a cave that was located in a steep hillside. As I was now a player, I asked the DM if there was any sort of cover we could hide behind in order to approach the cave without being seen from within the cave. (We didn’t know if anyone or anything was inside the cave that could possibly observe our adventuring party.) The DM flatly stated that there was knee-high grass (knee-high to a human, that is), and a few boulders maybe three-feet in diameter that we could try to use to screen our approach to the cave.

OK, all is well and good, most of us thought. But then the new DM’s sister spoke up. She asked, “Are there any trees?” The DM answered, “No, there aren’t any trees near the entrance to the cave.” Once again, that should have been good enough, but No! The DM’s sister then proceeded to argue that if there was grass, there had to be trees, too! The other party members all tried to reason with her, telling her that if the DM says there are no trees, then there aren’t any trees! (I guess she forgot that fantasy role-playing is also called “let’s pretend.”)

Anyway, she proceeded to argue with the DM for at least a half-hour as to whether or not there were trees. Some of us at first tried to reason with her, giving her plenty of examples of local real-life terrain where there was grass but no trees, but she wasn’t about to give in to her brother.

So, the rest of us sort of wandered away, taking bathroom breaks, getting snacks, then finally some of us started watching TV in another room. Eventually, we did get back to playing D&D again, but the mood was totally spoiled. I don’t think that campaign ever really recovered from that. That may have been the precipitating reason why the campaign fell apart after I stopped DMing for it.

When I was the DM, I always had a solution for overly obstinate, argumentative players — a grisly death for their character! Sometimes that is the only way to remove a disruptive player from your group. I would have dealt with such a player by either having a 10-ton block of granite fall on that character, squashing them flat, or perhaps just let some green slime fall on them and dissolve them into a puddle of green slime! Solutions such as those will allow the campaign to move forward. It also alerts the other players to not be disruptive!

I would also first try to remind players that they are playing a game, and not to take it too seriously.

— The Dungeon Master

What to do with stingy D&D characters

February 19th, 2016

OK, so I’ve mentioned I was the Dungeon Master (DM) for several groups of players back in the late 1979 to early 1982 era. Most folks had a good time playing Dungeons & Dragons; however, some few of them became excessively stingy towards the loot they had gleaned from various dungeons. Therefore, I had to find a way to cure the players of that sentiment.

A classic way to play D&D is for adventurers (i.e., the “player characters,” aka “PCs”) to go and explore underground caverns, ruined castles, and such. And if your group plays once a week, you would usually assume that the group was “resting” at a local inn/tavern in between weekly adventures. Of course, some of them needed to rest in order to restore hit points that were lost due to combat. But whatever the reason for resting instead of adventuring, they would of course have to pay for room and board. It is generally assumed that adventurer types in D&D like to live “high on the hog” in between adventures, so I would tell each character to deduct 25 gold pieces (GP) from their money to pay for living expenses between their weekly adventures. But some players would object vociferously to having to pay that much just to live! I would remind them that in today’s world it would be nice if we could get by paying only $25 per week!

So, I set a trap for those stingy characters. (Insert evil gloating laugh here! Think of Snidely Whiplash.) The next time the PCs entered the dungeon they had been exploring, they ended up going down a dead-end hallway. It didn’t matter which way they went, they were going to end up in this dead-end hallway. (insert gloating laugh again!)

So, the characters get to the end of that dead-end hallway, and BAM! An iron portcullis slams down behind them, trapping them in the end of the hallway. They all try to lift the bars, or to bend them, all to no avail. They then search the rock walls and floors for either a secret passage or for a way to release the bars. Alas (for them!), they can’t find a way out.

So then, after the players have been making all sorts of noise by banging on the bars, they hear what sounds like footsteps coming toward them in the hallway on the other side of the portcullis. They see see a humanoid carrying a lantern approaching, and when the lantern gets close enough, they can see it appears to be an old man approaching with the lantern in one hand, and a cane in the other hand. This is where I got to have some fun, as the DM gets to play the parts of all of the non-player characters (NPCs), such as the old man caretaker, in this example.

“What’s all this racket about?” I inquired, in the guise of the old caretaker. One of the members of the trapped adventurers said, “We’ve been trapped by these iron bars. Do you know how to raise the bars?” The old man answered, “Why, of course I know how to raise the bars.” “Well, then, good, raise the bars and let us out” demanded another party member. The old man answered, “Uh, not so fast, we need to discuss terms!” “Terms?” the entire party wondered.

The caretaker then looked the party over and said, “I’ll release the bars for 5 gold pieces per person.” The party was furious! “No! We’ll not pay that ransom to you!” Then the caretaker said, “OK. But do think it over. I’ll be back.” And then he started shuffling away, back down the hallway from whence he came. Someone in the party said, “Quick! Shoot him with an arrow before he gets away!” This is where I really got to stick it to the party. I, as the caretaker, stopped and slowly turned, then said, “Well, you could shoot me with an arrow, I reckon, but then, you might never get out, eh!? Like I said, think it over, I’ll be back.” And then the caretaker disappeared down the long dark hallway.

We then took a short break in the game, and when we resumed, I said it was two hours (in game time) after when the caretaker left. Then the party hears the caretaker approaching again. As the caretaker gets close enough to hear them, the party all agreed, “OK, we’ll pay you the 5 gold pieces to release us.” The caretaker paused, with a sort of puzzled grin on his face, and said, “Well, you see, the price has gone up. It’s now 25 GP per person! You know, inflation, and all that!” Now the party was even more angry! I, as the DM/caretaker, was certainly glad they were not angry bees, or they would have stung me to death! It should also be mentioned that it wasn’t just the PCs who were angry, the actual people who were role-playing their characters were actually fit to be tied, thinking they would have to give up some of their loot, just to gain their freedom from the trap they had wandered into. While the party was arguing amongst themselves, the caretaker again said, “OK, think it over some more, I’ll be back later.” And then he turned and walked away again.

So now a full 24 hours or so (in game time) has passed, the party is out of water and almost out of food, and finally the caretaker makes another appearance. This time, he is pushing a wheelbarrow with a squeaky wheel. He announces, “Well, you know, inflation has gone up again. To release you now, I must have everything you have. I must have all of your money, all of your weapons and armor, and even your clothes!” Once more the PCs were furious, and threatened to shoot the caretaker with an arrow! And, once again, the caretaker reminded them that if they killed him, they might never get out of the trap and would all starve to death instead. So the caretaker stood there for several minutes while the party talked things over. Finally, the party agreed to the caretaker’s ransom, as they had no other option. They had fruitlessly searched for secret doors or release mechanisms, they couldn’t bend or release the bars, nor could any of their magic affect the bars. They were trapped, and trapped good, and they knew it.

So then the PCs had to start throwing all of their stuff through the bars, weapons first. After the players had thrown everything except the clothes they were wearing through the bars, the caretaker ordered everyone to the farthest wall away from the bars, then he cautiously approached and gathered up the PCs’ belongings. He then loaded as much stuff as he could on the wheelbarrow, and went away back down the hall. He had to make several trips with the wheelbarrow before he got everything hauled away, each round trip taking about 20 minutes. On his last return visit, he reminded the party that he also wanted their clothes. “Off with ’em, and be quick about it!” he ordered. So, finally, and quite dejectedly, the party members all disrobed down to their underwear and threw their clothes to the caretaker through the bars. The caretaker gathered up their clothes and loaded them into the wheelbarrow.

Before leaving for the last time, the caretaker did say, “I will leave you with a single torch to find your way back out of this dungeon. It will take me about 10 minutes to reach the release mechanism and to release it. You should have 40 or 50 minutes of burning time left on the torch when the bars raise, so make haste on your way!” Then the caretaker left the torch outside the bars, and went away with the last wheelbarrow load of the PCs’ clothes.

The caretaker left and the PCs saw him nevermore. After about 10 minutes (remember, in game time, not real time), the bars slowly raised. The party didn’t wait to trigger the bars coming down again, but they all ran quickly to the torch, gathered it up, and left the dungeon as expeditiously as possible! After they left the underground dungeon, they had to still make their way back to the inn they had been staying at back in the village, all while dressed in only their underwear!

Aftermath: The players truly learned their lesson. After that treatment, after losing everything they owned (outside of a few coins they had left with the innkeeper), they were suitably humble. They finally realized that what the Dungeon Master giveth, the Dungeon Master could also taketh away. They no longer objected to paying “living expenses.” I also told the (real life) players that I had been so exasperated by their cheapness that I had been tempted to make their actual human bodies strip down to their underwear, besides just their player characters! Also, the PCs had to beg new clothes from townspeople, and had to find ways to acquire new weapons, etc. It caused them a number of problems for a while after. I reminded the group that I gave them two chances to get released rather cheaply, first at only 5 GP per person and then at 25 GP per person, but they lost everything at the third strike.

DM note: Of all of the times I have run dungeons as a DM and have played the part of NPCs, the role of the “caretaker” was my favorite. While playing the part of that character, I would get up and imitate an old man’s halting walk, with a limp, and I put on my best olde-English style accent. I hammed it up as much as possible. I tried to keep playing the NPC caretaker as much of a straight-man as I could, but inside I was laughing like a crazy man. I would also make sure to relate this story to any new groups I DMed for in the future, just so they knew not to get stingy with their swag! And, for the record, no other groups tried to hoard their money like this group had tried.

How I got into playing D&D (in the 1970s)

January 31st, 2016

I guess I’ve always been a board-gamer. I played various “kid” style board games when I was truly a kid, then in the early 1960s (when I was 10 years old) a friend of mine bought the board game “D-Day” from the Avalon Hill company. Wow. What a difference from other games. Most games (even the early cheesy Milton Bradley “war” games) had one side move one piece, then the other side moved a piece, etc, but with the D-Day game one side moved as many of their pieces as they wanted, then did all of their attacks, then the other side took a similar turn.

My friends and I then bought just about every Avalon Hill game there was. We wore out a couple copies of Blitzkrieg by playing it so much. Starting around 1970 or ’71, we went to local board game conventions (gamecons) and played all sorts of games. Then in the mid-1970s, I became aware (at the gamecons) that some folks were playing a new kind of game, a role-playing game named Dungeons & Dragons.

Original Dungeons & Dragons box cover.

Original Dungeons & Dragons box cover.

While at one of the local gamecons, I bought the original D&D rules booklets (1974 printing). There were three small booklets in the original set: Men & Magic; Monsters & Treasure; and The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures; plus a set of Reference Sheets. I also later bought the add-on booklets Greyhawk and Blackmoor (May & November 1978 printings, respectively). The booklets said “Rules for Fantastic Medieval Wargames Campaigns Playable with Paper and Pencil and Miniature Figures.” There were two problems, though, as none of my game-playing friends wanted to play D&D, not to mention the rules were sort of weird to try to figure out on your own.

I did get an introduction to playing D&D at the local gamecons, but I didn’t spend much time at all playing D&D at the cons as I was more into various board games at the time. So basically I just set aside the rule books for a few years.

Then, in August 1979, a teenager named James Dallas Egbert III mysteriously disappeared from the campus of Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan. Some folks who are old enough will remember the story, but if you don’t know about it, click the link above for more information. It seems that young Mr. Egbert (who was enrolled at MSU at age 16) would sometimes play Dungeons & Dragons, and the game’s name suddenly entered popular culture as various news organizations were trying to make a link to Egbert’s disappearance while “live playing” D&D in steam tunnels beneath the MSU campus. While Mr. Egbert’s life turned out to be a tragedy in that he commited suicide in August 1980, it did put D&D into the public eye.

Suddenly, in late 1979, all of my friends who had not formerly been interested in playing D&D started asking me about the game. “You have that game, right? How about showing us how the game plays?” I told them that nobody gets to watch others play the game, but they must play the game themselves if they wanted to find out anything about it. By that time I also owned the D&D “Basic Set” of rules that were a lot easier to decipher than the original rules booklets. It also came with module B1: In Search of the Unknown.

D&D Basic Set cover, 1977

Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set box cover from 1977.

I also had just purchased the first Advanced Dungeons & Dragons books, the Monster Manual, the Players Handbook, and the Dungeon Masters Guide (which had just come out), but as I hadn’t yet had time to read through all of those AD&D books, I decided to run a dungeon for my friends using the Basic Set rules (with the “blue” rulebook).

Unfortunately, the date is lost to history, but sometime in late 1979 (I would guess it was September, shortly after James Egbert had disappeared) I got together on a Friday evening after work with several friends, and we played D&D. Naturally, I was the Dungeon Master (DM) as I was the only one who knew anything about the game. We spent a little time generating their first characters, then down they went into the dungeon!

On that first Friday evening of playing D&D, we got started around 8 pm and finished around midnight. I figured that would be the end of things, as now my friends had finally experienced D&D, and I had blooded myself as a first-time DM. But instead, at midnight, the players were raving and excited! “When can we play again!?” they all clamored. I answered, “How about next weekend?” They all shouted, “Can’t we play any sooner? Like tomorrow?” The following day was a Saturday, so I said, “OK, we can get together again in the evening.” But they wanted to play sooner, like 10 am! We finally bargained on a starting time of noon on Saturday.

So we got together again at noon on Saturday, and played until midnight. By now, it seems the initial adventurers were totally hooked on the game. At midnight on Saturday, once again they all pleaded to play again the following day, on Sunday. So we played again on Sunday, from around noon to 6 pm. After that I said we should only play once a weekend.

After that, we did play D&D often, averaging one session per week for about two years. I also found time to start some other groups of players in some other dungeons as I had added to my store-bought modules with such as The Village of Hommlet. I also quickly started making my own modules as I found the players were also buying the few available ready-made dungeon modules so they would know what to expect.

Eventually, though, I started going to college in January 1982, and with all of the homework I had (I was also working 40 hours a week) I found I didn’t have time to adequately prepare adventures for the players. I then stepped down as our group’s DM, and let one of the other experienced players take over as DM. Unfortunately, the campaign just wasn’t the same, and we all drifted away from playing.

And for more than 30 years, I never went back to playing D&D until just after Christmas 2014.

— The Dungeon Master

The Tomb of Koban Hairfoot: Part 1

January 17th, 2016

DM note: This is a longer post than usual, as it gets back into what Dungeons & Dragons players and characters live for, a “Dungeon Crawl” where the characters go down into an underground labyrinth in search of treasure.

Day #2-29 (Fireday, 9th Dewsnap, 4333 BCCC): The party awoke the next morning in Karnack’s castle and found the weather had cleared with bright blue skies and with only a few scattered clouds; however, after their heavy drinking of the previous evening, Vandin had a minor hangover and Douag was nursing a major hangover. Fortunately for him, Vox had no after-effects of his drinking. By around 8:00 am, they were all at breakfast, eating hotcakes with syrup, and sausage links. Falafela mentioned how she really enjoyed the hot breakfasts, as she was getting really tired of eating hardtack along the trail. Around 9:00 am they were all summoned to see Karnack in his tower. When all of the party (including Douag) were assembled, Karnack addressed them. “The past day and a half, my scribes and I have been very busy indeed. We have scoured through all of my books and tomes, and I believe we have found something that may aid you in your quest.”

Karnack continued, “Decades, if not a century or more ago, the cleric Koban Hairfoot was a great and powerful healer in the region. He grew up from humble beginnings to become an ardent warrior of his holy faith. Koban survived many adventures with several groups of adventurers and his fame and fortune grew, as did his skill in the clerical arts. Koban specialized in the creation of healing mixtures and made a habit of curing plague victims, as his own parents succumbed to disease when he was very young. Many villagers owed their lives to Koban’s tireless pursuit to finding healing methods to diseases that afflicted the land. Koban’s quest to cure disease finally led him to his demise in a remote part of the Anshar Forest. There, among his comrades, Koban fell at an old dungeon complex. Out of respect the local gentry helped build his crypt to honor his memory. In the years that have passed, most folks of the region have forgotten the location of the crypt.”

“It is known that Koban found the Necklace of Harbinge, indeed, he was reportedly buried with it. That necklace is a gold, crescent shaped device with opals and turquoises, on a gold chain. It can be used with a gold chalice of high value to create a potion that can cure many diseases. But, Koban was looking for another, even more powerful artifact, the Pendant of Winstone. The pendant is gold, mostly round with a sort of handle on one side, and a large jet-black jewel in its center. Reputedly, the pendant must also be used with a gold chalice of high value.”

“Bring ye back those artifacts, and we may be able to devise a cure for the villagers of Crystal Shores!”

“I will send 5 of my cavalry with you as an escort. Two of them will carry crossbows. They will escort you as far as the entrance to the forest. I will also send my ranger, Clayton, to guide you through the forest to the tomb.” Karnack motioned to a tall woodsy looking fellow wearing brown with a deep green cloak who was standing behind him. “He has visited the site of Koban’s crypt in the past, although not for a few years. And, to save you all walking, I will send two wagons with teamsters to drive them. They will take you to the entrance to the forest, but cannot go farther because the trail into the woods is only wide enough for foot travel. They will also take a few woodcutters with them and will return to the castle with loads of wood. They will return to the same location the following morning, along with the cavalry, and can provide transportation back to the castle.”

Before the party left Karnack’s presence, Opalent presented him with a gold ring (with one of the small opals from Bella Dora) that Opalent made in the craft shop. Karnack thanked her for the gift.

It was finally around 10:00 am when the party had checked their gear and were all set to go. Between then, they had 25 person-days worth of rations (mostly hardtack and jerky, with a bit of dried fruit) and a whopping 31 torches. They loaded into the wagons and were on their way. The teamsters drove their teams west along the cart trail that followed the south shore of Bridgefield Creek. Around three miles from the castle, the cart path crossed over to the north (left) bank across a small wooden bridge. It should be noted that the creek averaged about three feet deep, with a few shallower places and a few places where the depth reached as much as 6 to 10 feet. The creek flowed towards the east, towards the village of Bridgefields. The party tried to glean any information they could from the teamsters and woodcutters, but they didn’t know much about the interior of the Anshar Forest. They said they only went as far into the forest as they needed in order to haul out enough timber to load their wagons. The cavalry escort, for the most part, were too far away to speak with, as they were scouting ahead and on the flanks of the wagons.

After about a 45-minute wagon ride, during which Vandin had napped almost the entire way and Douag was moaning with his hangover every time his wagon hit a bump (the wagons were basically buckboards with sides, but without any sort of springs). When the party dismounted at the entrance to the forest, the guards repeated that they would be back with the wagons the following morning. Then Clayton spoke to the group. “We will start out walking on a good trail. It will wind around a bit, and after a few miles it will reach the shore of the Bridgefield Creek. We will then follow the north bank of that stream to the west for another three miles or so. That second three miles will be much harder hiking as there isn’t any permanent trail to follow. Make sure you keep close together, and make a minimum of noise. We will take a lunch break when we reach the creek.”

By 11:00 am the party entered the forest. The trail started mostly south, but once made a sharp turn to the right to loop around an obstruction and seemed to be heading back north for a quarter-mile or so, then made another left turn to head back to the southwest. Falafela was especially keeping track of the windings of the trail, and periodically looked back to see what the trail looked like heading the other direction. When the party had penetrated about a mile into the woods, a large pack of birds (they looked like finches) took noisy flight. Clayton wasn’t sure if the party had spooked them, or if something else was the cause. He halted the party, motioned for silence, and directed them to rest to the side, just off the trail. He then went and scouted ahead, alone. After about 5 minutes he came back and said, “I believe it was us who startled the birds. The only thing I worry about is that it of course could have alerted others to our presence.”

After about two miles into the forest, where the trail turned from mostly southwest to mostly south, the party could hear what sounded like a horn trumpeting far to the south of them. Could it have been a bugle? An animal sound? Clayton mentioned that sometimes the deep woods played tricks with sound, and not to worry about the sound. This part of the woods was very dense, and it was difficult to see the sky at all. Also, it was rather dark as no sunlight could penetrate through the canopy of leaves above. Although it was still mid-spring, the southerly clime meant the trees filled out with leaves early, and there were a number of evergreen coniferous trees about. If one left the trail, there was a surprising amount of undergrowth, in spite of the low light conditions. Although it had rained steadily two days ago, the ground was barely damp.

Finally, after three miles and about one and a half hours of walking, the party reached the creek. Clayton encouraged everyone to remove their backpacks, rest, and drink as much water as they could, then to refill their water skins. He also mentioned that they would be near the stream all the rest of the way to the tomb, so water should not be a problem. The party also ate, and rested for a full 30 minutes. Then, they hoisted their backpacks once again, and proceeded on their way. At the rest stop, Falafela made sure to mark the trail they would need to use to return the way they had come. It was also noted that the trail crossed the creek at their resting place, and the creek was quite fordable at that place as it was only one foot deep. The water was clear and cold, and quite refreshing to drink.

It took another three hours to cover the three miles or so to the edge of the clearing where the tomb of Koban Hairfoot was located. It was now mid-afternoon, probably around 4:00 pm. The clearing was about 300 yards in diameter, with the creek along the south part of the clearing. The crypt itself was north of the creek, and just about in the center of the clearing. There were a couple of low, gentle rolling hills in the clearing, and on the far side of the clearing was a granite cliff about 50 feet high, with the creek tumbling down the cliff in a waterfall, then into a wider area to make a pond about 50 yards south of the crypt.

Clayton cautioned everyone to silence, and to stay out of sight of the clearing. He said, “This is strange, there is a herd of goats here, maybe 50 or a hundred of them. They were not here when I reconnoitered this area a few years ago. You all stay back in the woods while I do some scouting. Clayton was about to walk to the north through the woods, but Falafela joined him. The duo worked their way to the north of the crypt while staying under cover of the woods, noting that the wind was out of the south so that they were downwind of anybody or anything in the clearing, and that being downwind they shouldn’t spook the goats. That’s when they saw the cyclops! He was fully 20 feet tall, carrying a massive club that looked like a small tree trunk (it was probably 8 feet long). The only garment the cyclops was wearing was a fur loincloth. The duo waited a few minutes, didn’t see any other creatures other than the cyclops and his goats, then silently made their way back to the others of the party.

“Well, we have a quandary on our hands!” related Clayton. There is a 20-foot tall cyclops in the field on the other side of the crypt!” That sparked a bit of a discussion, so much so that Clayton wanted everyone to move farther back into the forest so they wouldn’t attract any unwanted attention from the cyclops. Gwenette stayed at the forest’s edge and kept an eye on the clearing in case anything came their way. The party discussed various methods to deal with the cyclops, including using Clayton’s and Vox’s bows to shoot it with arrows, at which time Vox mentioned that he had never even shot his bow at anything! Clayton remarked that he wished he would have had time to take Vox target shooting and then hunting. Clayton also reminded the party that a cyclops could usually throw a 40-pound rock quite a ways, perhaps as far as 50 yards! One good thing, Clayton noted, was that such creatures usually lived solitary lives so there probably wouldn’t be any other creatures to have to deal with. Vandin took the opportunity of the discussion to take another nap. By now, the long hike and the element of nearby danger had cleared Douag’s head and he took an active part in the discussion.

One of the options discussed were to go and try to steal a couple of goats to get the cyclops to chase, but that idea was shot down with a reminder of the cyclops’ rock-throwing prowess. Finally, it was thought a diversionary fire might draw the cyclops off in the opposite direction, but who would set the fire(s)? Flenda and Jorgio then volunteered for that hazardous duty. Everyone else figured that maybe Flenda and Jorgio would want to do that so they could be alone, as everyone had noticed how the two had been spending as much time as possible in the near company of the other. Flenda had even insisted on walking closest to Jorgio during the hike into the woods.

Between the two of them, Flenda and Jorgio possessed eight torches and enough food for a day or so. Flenda also mentioned they could probably catch a squirrel or a rabbit (or even a goat, chimed in Jorgio) to supplement their rations. They did not own a tinderbox, though, and to avoid them having to search for some flint (of which there was good chance to find some atop the granite cliff, although there was a chance of being spotted by the cyclops before they got a fire going), Vox loaned them his tinderbox. So off they went, as it was now around 4:30 pm, meaning there was less than two hours of daylight left. Clayton reminded everyone that it would be a moonless night, with only starlight to provide natural illumination. And while the dwarves, elves, and halflings all had infravision, it was of limited range meaning a cyclops could be almost upon them before they would sense his heat signature in the dark! At this point all of the party members made sure their water skins were full from the creek.

It took Flenda and Jorgio about 45 minutes to work their way around the south edge of the clearing. They first had to cross the stream, and then they went a hundred or so yards into the woods to make less of a chance of their scent being carried to the goats. They eventually made their way to the top of the cliff to the west of the clearing and saw that the cyclops was seated on a rock, watching his flock, looking quite contented. They then spent about 15 minutes gathering as much brush as they could, and getting it close to the edge of the cliff. Then, about an hour  before sunset, they started a small fire back from the cliff with their torch, and then carried that fire on two sticks to the brush they had gathered. Within a few minutes, the bright yellow flames of the brush were standing out against the dark background of the forest on top of the cliff. At first, the cyclops just gazed with his mono-vision at the flames, but when the human duo of Flenda and Jorgio began to jump up and down, yelling and swinging their arms to attract attention, the monster stood up, and then began to walk in the direction of the cliff.

Flenda and Jorgio knew the cyclops probably wouldn’t directly climb the cliff, but would go to either side of the cliff to gain altitude. When he went to the north side of the cliff, the human pair swiftly ran to the south, going deeper into the woods. Flenda  told Jorgio, “That cyclops will have to crawl to move quickly through the woods, otherwise his head will be up in the branches!” But Jorgio answered, “But what if the cyclops just breaks off the treetops and throws them at us…?”

When the rest of the party noticed the cyclops heading toward the cliff, they moved fast. They quickly crossed the 150 yards of open ground to the crypt, trying at all times to keep the crypt between them and the cyclops so that if the cyclops would turn around, he wouldn’t see them. The crypt itself was made of rough-hewn gray granite blocks, fitted together. The building was about 110 feet wide across its entrance, and a bit longer than that in its depth. At its tallest point, a granite domed roof, it was 25 feet high. At its front, facing the pond in the creek to the south, were several wide granite steps leading up to its entrance. The entrance had two black wooden doors, reinforced with iron bands, each door measuring 8 feet tall and four feet wide, making an 8 foot by 8 foot aperture. The doors had evidently been barred and locked from the outside, but they had been forced open from the outside previous to the adventurers’ arrival. The party was slightly out of breath when they reached the crypt, and then one by one they turned the corner of the building and crept into the dim entrance, watching to ensure the cyclops did not see them.

Once they were all within, Gwenette stood watch in the shadow inside the doors, watching to see if the cyclops was headed back their way. Inside the tomb, they noticed a strong body odor, most likely from the cyclops’ bedding. In the southeast corner inside the crypt was much debris, mostly old rags and some dirt and branches. There were also a number of animal (and possibly humanoid?) bones littering the interior, and some animal flesh, apparently the remains of a recent dinner. “At least the cyclops didn’t ‘do his business’ inside the place where he slept!” said one of the party, possibly Tureg. Besides the debris, the floor was made of white marble with gold veins in it. There were four rough granite pillars holding up the ceiling, and in the northwest and northeast corners of the interior were two circular staircases that went up about 15 feet to an observation deck across the back of the interior. But the main feature of the interior, in the middle of the floor, was a carved marble crypt that resembled a sleeping person on a padded bed, and the bed was suspended on the wings of eagles on all four sides. Around that feature was a red pentagram inlaid into the floor. And, at either side of the pseudo-coffin were two white marble angels, one on each side of the coffin. The angels faced the entrance door, and were in a battle-ready crouch, each holding a marble sword in its hand.

Although it was a little dark inside the building, there was enough of the setting sun to the southwest to illuminate the inside enough for the party to see these features. Quickly the party examined every part of the inside. The marble coffin seemed to be of a single piece of marble, and nobody was able to open it in any manner. Lightstep sensed an aura of some sort emanating from the coffin. Finally, Opalent noticed that one of the angels could be rotated. Then Lightstep verified that the other angel’s arm could move. Opalent turned the angel to the right of the crypt to have it face the marble coffin, then raised its arm. Lightstep then raised the arm of the angel to the left, then rotated it to face the coffin. After that, a loud “click” was heard, like that of a latch being released. Vandin and others were then able to raise the lid.

Some of the characters, particularly Vandin, were ready to grab for the Pendant of Winstone and be on their way, but lo! There was no body inside. Instead, what was presented to the party was a solid white mass of cobwebs! Vandin borrowed Opalent’s 10-foot pole and whisked away the cobwebs as quickly as he could. Then they all saw stairs leading down into a black void. Lightstep and Opalent lit torches, and then Vandin and Lightstep led the way, single file, down the stairs. While this was going on, the ranger Clayton was reminding others that Koban had found a dungeon below ground at this feature, and he was believed to have been buried in the lower reaches of that dungeon. Finally, when all the others had made it down, Gwenette brought up the rear.

The party speculated about what the cyclops would do when he returned and saw the lid to the marble coffin open. They also saw a large lever protruding from the floor at the bottom of the stairs. They quickly surmised that the lever would close the lid, but not wanting to chance possibly locking themselves in, possibly for all of eternity, Opalent used her dagger to wedge the lid so it would not close all of the way while Vandin and Douag worked the lever to close the lid. The party then proceeded down the hallway from the stairs. Inside the hallway, the walls were also of rough-hewn granite, about 10 feet wide with a 10-foot tall ceiling. At random places on the walls were iron sconces, sans torches. The iron of the sconces had surface rust, but were not rusted too badly seeing as they had been installed at least 100 years before. There was not much evidence of moisture.

The party only went about 40 feet when the corridor turned 90 degrees to the left, then back to the right. Although, if they were to have gone straight after the left, they could see 20 feet in front of them what looked like a solid wall of cobwebs. Lightstep used his torch to burn away the webs, and inside they found a circular chamber of 30 feet diameter. They noted that the dust on the floor had not been disturbed, and around the walls, frescoes had been painted many years ago, portraying ordinary life around the area, probably from 100 years or so ago. Some of the areas of the frescoes had peeled off. Douag and Opalent checked for stonework traps and for secret doors, respectively, but detected nothing. The party then went back to the hallway and took the other passage that was formerly to their right, although now it was to their left.

After heading in their new direction for 20 (human-sized) paces or so, the hallway once again branched. Ninety-degrees to the left was another hallway, while if they went straight ahead they could see a right corridor about at the extremity of the light from their torch. They decided to take the left passageway. About 25 paces down that passage was an anomaly in the floor. Right in the middle of the hallway, one of the paving blocks was raised about 3 inches above the normal floor height. Nobody wanted to walk on that stone, lest it prove to be a trap. The party members checked for stonework traps; none were detected. But not wanting to tempt the fates, all party members stepped around the raised block.

About 50 feet past the raised block, there was a side corridor to the right. That side corridor went about 30 feet, turned right, and then had a wooden door another 10 feet down the hall. The other corridor, in the direction the party had been heading, turned left, then back to the right after 20 feet, then went straight as far as they could see with their torchlight. So, the party decided to investigate the right hallway.

When the party came to the door, Vandin tested it, found it unlocked, and pushed it open. It opened surprisingly easy, in spite of no hinge lubrication for decades. Inside was a room about 40 feet long and 30 feet wide. Along the far wall were wooden racks full of wooden weapons, apparently once used for training purposes. Along the long wall to the right, many bones were fastened upon the wall, and in the center of the wall was a large skeleton, apparently of an ogre. The ogre skeleton was fastened to the wall intact, and there appeared to be writing on the wall around the skeleton. Although none could read the words that were written, they did point to various parts of the ogre’s bones, like they were part of training regimen, instructing trainees as to the best places to strike an ogre. Opalent moved in for a closer look at the writing, but as she quickly approached the skeleton, its skull suddenly dropped from its upright position so that its jaw rested on its sternum! This caused a moment’s consternation until Opalent figured it must have just been the air she moved that had caused the movement of the skull. The party did a thorough look-around of the “training room,” then departed.

After leaving the training room, the party resumed their original direction of travel, away from the raised stone in the hallway floor. The party’s marching order at this time was Vandin & Vox in the front, followed by Gwenette and Lightstep, then Falafela and Opalent, then Clayton and Tureg, and Douag was the rear-guard. Lightstep and Opalent were carrying lit torches. After several left-right 90-degree bends in the corridor, they came to a dead end at a wooden door. With a little bit of effort, Vox was able to push the door open. Inside the door was a room about 30 feet long and 20 feet wide, and it looked to have once been an armory. There were overturned empty weapon racks, with some old, rusted, broken weapons strewn about (such as broken sword blades and broken spear shafts), and a large wooden chest against the wall in the back of the room. As the party moved into the room, they noticed two full skeletons on the floor, mixed in with the debris. Vandin wasn’t taking any chances with the skeletons — he immediately set upon the skeletons and crushed their skulls with his hammer. Lightstep then prayed for the souls of the departed, whomever those skeletons may have been in their previous lives.

Falafela then went to the large wooden chest and checked it for traps, but didn’t find any. Not taking any chances, though, Vox then borrowed Opalent’s 10-foot pole and used it to open the lid of the unlocked chest. A quick observation showed the interior of the chest was empty. Vox and Lightstep then made a closer examination of the chest, and determined it had no false bottom or other secret storage areas. Vandin then kicked the chest in disgust. Opalent then examined the floor under the skeletons and the right side wall for secret passages, but found none. By this time the party’s two lit torches were about half-burned, meaning they had been in the dungeon about 30 minutes.

The party then retraced their steps, using the same marching order as above, until they once again came to the raised stone in the floor. Vox really, really wanted to step on that raised block to see what would happen, but several party members vociferously talked him out of that action. Vandin did a close examination for any stonework traps, and being satisfied that there were no traps, the party pushed on, once again carefully avoiding stepping on that raised stone.

About 10 (human-sized) paces past the raised block, the party re-entered the passageway to the surface. But instead of heading right towards the surface, they instead took the left passage, towards the unknown. About 30 feet or so, the hallway branched to the right, and they took that passage. After another 50 feet, the hallway split to the left and to the right. After 10 feet in either direction, there were closed wooden doors. Falafela was brought forward to check the door on the left, but didn’t find any traps. Vandin tried to open the door, but it was stuck, so he applied his hammer to it, and the door popped open. Someone towards the rear of the party commented, “If there is anyone or anything else around, they now definitely know we’re here!” Inside the room were several broken bunk beds, and some broken clay pots. The party did not spend much time in this room. The torches were about 2/3 burned by now, so the party had been in the dungeon about 40 minutes.

Falafela then returned to the hallway and went to the door on the right. She once again searched for any traps, and once again found none. Vox tried to open the door, but it was stuck. He put his shoulder to it, but still could not budge it. Vandin then brought forth his hammer and smashed the door open. (After all, when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like it should be smashed with your hammer, n’est-pas?) Inside the room, the party saw more broken bunk beds on their sides, but also piles of loose bones. Some of the bones were wrapped in cloth, and the tattered cloth appeared to have been sliced by edged weapons. One of the piles of bones had an old rusted broken sword blade embedded in it. It did appear that a battle had taken place in this room, many years, perhaps even a century, ago. When the party looked closer at the bones, they found four humanoid skulls. Douag speculated that this room must have been a barracks or a guardroom, and it looked like the guards and been attacked and slain. There were also four intact, closed footlockers present.

The party then determined what was in the four footlockers. Vox checked the first one — it was empty. Falafela next checked one, and it was also empty. Opalent checked the third, although she was warned not to lest she trigger a trap, but it was merely an empty footlocker. Falafela then checked the last footlocker, and it, like the others, was devoid of contents. Lightstep said, “It looks like someone else has already cleaned out this place.” It should be noted that while in the room, Vandin did not feel compelled to smash any of the skulls.

So they all went back to the main passage, Vandin and Vox once again in the lead, and turned right to continue in their original direction. After 30 feet, the corridor turned 90 degrees to the left. After another 60 feet, the corridor branched to the right, and five feet into that branch was a closed wooden door. The party also noticed that if they would have gone straight, there appeared to be another passage diverging to the right not too far down the hall. But since the party was trying to be systematic about their explorations, they decided they must first see what there was to see behind this door. Of course Falafela did the obligatory search for traps, and when none were found, Vandin took his turn at trying the door. He was able to open it by degrees by putting his shoulder to it, but it squeaked and squawked ferociously all the while he was forcing it open.

Inside the door, the party proceeded about 30 feet when the hall widened into an octagonal chamber that was about 30 feet across from one parallel wall to its opposite wall. In the center of the room appeared the final resting place of Koban Hairfoot. Upon a marble table with the words “Koban Hairfoot” etched in its sides was a glass coffin, or at least a glass covering over the bones of Koban Hairfoot. Surprisingly, there was not too much dust on the top of the glass. Koban himself, or at least his skeleton, as all that was left of him was bones, was wearing a crown and a gold and jewel encrusted surcoat. Next to his body was his silver holy symbol, and a broken footman’s mace. It was at this time that the two torches were nearly burned to extinguishment, so the party lit two new torches (supplied by Vox and Gwenette). This marked about 60 minutes they had been below-ground.

When the new torches had been lit, the party noticed the murals in five of the angular walls of the chamber. From left to right, the murals depicted these scenes: 1) a young cleric watching what looked like cultists killing a family, perhaps the cleric’s family; 2) a cleric (presumably the same cleric) with an adventuring party; 3) that same cleric and his party posing with a slain green dragon; 4) the cleric healing peasants; and 5) that same cleric meeting his demise from electrical lightning bolts. Then four of the party, Vox, Clayton, Gwenette, and Opalent, lifted the glass covering off of Koban’s tomb and gently set it upon the floor. The party then examined Koban more closely, and inside his surcoat they found what looked like the Necklace of Harbinge, one of the artifacts that Karnack had mentioned had been buried with Koban. It was in the shape of a crescent moon, with a number of small opals and turquoises embedded in it, and was attached to a golden chain. Lightstep took the Necklace and placed it around his own neck for safekeeping. No other possessions of Koban were disturbed, and then Lightstep prayed most reverently over Koban for several minutes. When Lightstep had finished, he directed the party to replace the glass lid.

While all of the above was taking place, Tureg was watching their back-trail down the corridor. And Douag said he recognized the murals as being the story of Koban’s life. And since there was a door on the left side of Koban’s burial chamber (relative to the other door from which they had entered), Vox tried the door. As the hinges were on his side of the door, Vox pulled the door towards him. The door squeaked only a little, and opened with relatively little effort. Outside the door, which was set back about five feet from the main hallway, were passages going to the left and to the right, although the right passage turned to its left after a short distance. The party reckoned that the left passage led back to the hallway outside the other door to Koban’s chamber, so they proceeded to the right. At about this time Opalent made the observation that “Vox is learning to pray!” Lightstep answered with “Praying for wealth is not praying!” Vox then said, “I just want to find the Pendant and get out of this place!”

After the initial left turn of the hallway just after they left Koban’s chamber, the hall went straight for 90 or a hundred feet, then turned right. After another 30 feet, the hallway dead-ended, although there was a door on the right-side wall at the dead-end. Naturally, Falafela checked for hidden traps, and finding none moved back so Vandin could open the door. He had to put his shoulder into it, but with a moderate amount of squeaking the door opened. After a short passage inside the door was a sort of diamond shaped room, roughly 20 feet deep and 30 feet wide. It was quite apparently a library, as bookshelves lined all the walls inside the room, and the shelves were filled with old books. In the center of the room was a 4-foot square wooden table with two chairs. There were also some books and loose papers scattered about on the floor.

While Vox stood guard in the hallway outside the room, Opalent speculated that there might be a book here that could explain how to use the Necklace of Harbinge or the Pendant of Winstone! Lightstep cast a Detect Magic spell, but detected no magical auras. Opalent wanted to check the bookcases for secret passages that might lie behind them. And Vox leaned into the room and offered the suggestion to check the books and papers on the floor.

(to be continued)

— The Dungeon Master

DM note: What lies ahead for our intrepid party? Will they find the Pendant of Winstone? Will they all return to the surface alive? Check back in the future for more adventures!

Read The Tomb of Koban Hairfoot – Part 2

A Day of Rest at Karnack’s Castle

January 17th, 2016

Day #2-28 (Earthday, 8th Dewsnap, 4333 BCCC) After a good night’s sleep at Karnack’s castle, the party awoke well refreshed. After a hearty breakfast of eggs, bacon, and biscuits, they were free to wander around inside the castle or even to go outside. They were told there was good fishing in Bridgefield Creek about a quarter-mile north of the castle, in spite of the fact it was still drizzling after an all night rain. Nobody went fishing or hunting, though, everyone was too tired from their 60-mile trek to the castle. Falafela managed to make her way to the craft shop inside the southwest corner of the castle. There she befriended Makurrh, the main craftsman/tinker for the castle. Together they discussed things mechanical, including various types of locks. Falafela asked if there were any locks she could practice picking, and Makurrh provided a couple of locks from the workbenches. He also mentioned “It would be bad form for a guest to actually practice picking any locks on actual doors within the castle, though, methinks! One would certainly not want to get caught performing that mischief!” Falafela also put in a little practice time trying to climb the inner stone walls of the castle.

Opalent was also working in the craft room, making jewelry, asking other jewelers for any techniques they would share. She was also interested in purchasing any gems that may have had special qualities. “Alas,” was the answer from Bella Dora, “I believe our gems are just of the ordinary sort.” Bella also added that, “We don’t have a lot of gems here, just a few rubies and opals, and one small topaz. We do have a little silver and gold that can be fashioned into rings and bracelets, though.” Bella did show Opalent how to make a simple jeweled ring. Vandin hung out at the blacksmith’s, talking about forges and smithing. Vandin was particularly amused by a story from the smith about a party of adventurers who found a staff and then angered the wizard amongst them. Lightstep spent time praying, especially as he was worrying about the villagers of Crystal Shores and about the evil ring the party had found. Towards the evening, Vandin, Vox and Douag started to drink a little too much ale. After nightfall, the party all retired to their quarters for the night.

— The Dungeon Master

Journey to Karnack’s Castle: The Third Day

January 16th, 2016

DM note: at last the party arrived at Karnack’s castle, although not without a bit of night-time excitement!

Day #2-27 (Waterday, 7th Dewsnap, 4333 BCCC) By this time, around midnight, Lightstep was getting too tired to stay awake. He decided to wake Flenda to stand his watch. He also said he had been unable to sleep due to worrying about the evil ring they were carrying to Karnack’s castle. In the meantime, Falafela stayed on the hill to keep an eye on the other camp with the campfire. At this time, Vandin was snoring, although not loudly, and it sounded like he was saying “stones stones stones” during his exhalations. When Flenda and Tureg then took over the watch, they were informed about the horse snorting nearby. While Tureg stayed in his party’s camp, Flenda went to the top of the hill to observe the other camp. By this time, even the starlight had winked out as the sky had totally clouded over, and the wind picked up a little as it seemed a weather front was starting to pass through. After Flenda had attuned her eyes to the dark and had watched the campfire from a distance, she silently crawled on her belly like a reptile through the knee-high grass towards that other, mysterious, camp.

Around 3 am, Tureg woke the next watch pair of Gwenette and Jorgio. Tureg informed the duo that Flenda was on the hill watching another camp, and cautioned them to keep their voices low. Gwenette climbed the low hill, but although she moved back and forth on her side of the hillcrest, she could not locate her sister. Finally, Gwenette noticed, even in the almost total darkness, what looked like some bent grass leading towards the other camp. Gwenette also looked towards the campfire, and she thought she saw her sister sitting around that fire with several other people. So, Gwenette did what was reasonable for the daughter of barbarians to do — she too crawled towards the other camp. As Gwenette got close to the other camp, she could hear her sister’s voice, and could recognize the Karzulun language. So, when Gwenette had made it within about 20 feet of the camp without being detected (she was downwind of the horses), she finally stood up and said, “Flenda, you shouldn’t go sneaking off like that! You had us all worried!”

Then the four Karzuluns, led by Jen Jise, all stood up and welcomed Gwenette. They said, “Damn! Your father did a good job teaching you two to move silently. We never heard either of you coming!” So the girls sat and enjoyed the warmth of the fire, while telling their long-lost friends of their recent adventures. The girls mentioned how they had been captured by orcs, and got a ribbing about that from the Karzuluns. The girls mentioned how they had been careless to go berry and herb picking away from their village without taking any weapons. The tale continued with the story of their rescue by their friends on the other side of the hill. The raiders were finally impressed when Flenda displayed the two orc ears she had taken as a trophy from Losnoth! Finally, when it started getting lighter in the east (there would be no sunrise as it was totally overcast), the girls decided they should go back to their own camp, and they invited the Karzuluns to come along. So, the two girls and the four men and the men’s four horses all walked quite casually towards the girls’ camp.

By this time, the entire camp of adventurers was wide awake, and had lookouts posted on the hill, so they saw the others approaching them. They weren’t sure if they were about to be betrayed, so they had their weapons at the ready. But Flenda hailed the party, saying, “You’re not going to believe this, but we found some old friends of our parents! Our father used to ride with these rascals!” So then when the two parties met, introductions were given all around. Jen Jise mentioned (using the common language) that if this group was good enough to rescue Flenda and Gwenette from a nest of orcs, then they were worth keeping company with. After a quick bite of food (the Karzuluns had their own food in their saddlebags), the party departed towards Karnack’s castle to the north. The Karzuluns walked their horses alongside the others, asking questions about the particular quest the group was on. The Karzuluns mentioned they would only accompany the party to the castle, but they would not enter the castle as they (the Karzuluns) were usually not on good terms with other people. Although the main party had traveled many miles in the past two days, they quickened their step with the freshening northeast breeze bringing promise of a spring rain.

Finally, the group arrived at Karnack’s castle around 10 am, passing by fenced gardens and pastures with goats, sheep, and cattle. The Karzuluns then said their farewells, mounted their horses and rode back to the south. Approaching the castle from the south, the group could see a wall made of gray fitted stone that was about 80 yards wide and about 20 feet high, with crenellations atop the walls. There were also two towers, one on either side of the main gate, the towers being about 30 feet high. The main gate itself was made of two heavy wooden doors with iron reinforcement, each of which measured 10 feet tall and eight feet wide. The castle itself was also atop a hill that was about 20 feet taller than the surrounding countryside, and a somewhat steep switchback road led up to the gate. At the castle gate, a guard who was above the gate hailed the party. “Halt! Who goes there?” Lightstep and Opalent did most of the speaking, mentioning they had come to see Karnack, and that they had been sent by Herschel Gobinmyer of the village of Crystal Shores. The guard said, “Hold your places.” There was about a 10 minute delay as another guard took a message to Karnack. Finally, the gates opened, and the guard said, “Enter!”

Inside the castle courtyard, the group could see a stable to their right, and past the stable was a partially enclosed building with much firewood. To the left was a privy, and also a row of two-story wooden buildings nestled up against the inside castle wall on the side. To the far left was a keep with a large square tower on top, with the top of the tower at least 50 feet above the ground. To the far right was another inner wall, with a smaller tower that measured about 40 feet high at the far corner. Directly across the courtyard, about 75 yards away, was another wall, and quite noticeably, atop that wall was a large crossbow that could fire more than one bolt at once, and that crossbow was manned by guards and was aimed right at the party! There were also a number of small carts in various locations in the courtyard, and various civilians going about their tasks. The party, which numbered nine, also noticed that there were nine guards around them in the courtyard. The guards were all clad in scale mail, carrying large gray shields emblazoned with a black diagonal band. The guards were all also armed with sheathed long swords and wore small iron helmets.

A lieutenant of the guard spoke. “Karnack will see two of you at this time. Please follow me.” With that, the guard turned on his heel and Lightstep and Opalent followed him, followed by another guard. The lieutenant led into the base of the eastern tower, then inside the wall towards the east. Then the wall turned north. After more than 50 yards in this new direction, the group passed through a wall into a barracks, then ascended a circular stairway to Karnack’s tower. Karnack, a human of about 60 years, stood about 5’5” tall, weighed probably 150 pounds, sported a fu manchu moustache, and was bald except for a light-gray turban that was secured in its front with a red feather through a gold medallion. He also was wearing a long medium-gray robe with some brocaded decorations woven into it (sort of like a paisley pattern).

After introductions, Karnack bid Lightstep and Opalent be seated on two padded chairs that were of a dark wood with red velvet on the seats, and the two guards retreated to the stairway, where they remained at attention. Karnack then sat down behind his desk. Karnack spoke, “I understand you were sent here by Herschel Gobinmyer?” Lightstep answered, “Yes. He wrote out this letter to you.” With that, Lightstep removed the rolled scroll of gray parchment from his ivory scroll tube and handed it to Karnack. Karnack, after examining Herschel’s seal that had been impressed into the sealing wax, then broke the seal and began to read Karnack’s letter:

Spiritday, the 5th of Dewsnap, 4333 BCCC

The olde village of Crystal Shores

My Dearest Olde Friende Karnack,

A couple of weeks ago, the village of Crystal Shores was beset upon by a strange pestilence. A number of the villagers developed sore throats, then began to cough frequently, then some of them “turned” into a sort of mindless creature who then attacked other villagers, apparently in an attempt to bite those other villagers! Two of the villagers “turned” and had to be killed to prevent them harming others. Others then burned their bodies in an attempt to prevent the spread of the pestilence, although I had wanted to examine the bodies to see if I could detect any reason for the malady.

These strange happenings began about a month ago when a traveling cleric passed through our village, and then shortly thereafter, four more men, three fighters and one magician, passed through Crystal Shores, seemingly in pursuit of the cleric. We never saw any of those individuals again. At about the same time as those individuals passed through, two of our village’s young maidens, Flenda and Gwenette Deathmar (daughters of Vilan and Vilanious) disappeared. At the time, we sort of wondered what had happened, but nobody from the village wanted to go searching for the girls, believing that they would show up of their own accord, as, after all, they both are quite the free spirit.

In any event, about two weeks after they disappeared, the girls came back to the village, escorted by a party of adventurers who had rescued the girls from some orcs who held the girls captive at the old ruins of Losnoth, which is about 15 miles due south of Crystal Shores. The girls related their story of how they had gone off berry picking in the jungle to the southeast of the village and had been surprised and surrounded by the orcs, even though it was in the daytime. As it was, just as the orcs were about to sacrifice Flenda on an altar in the interior of the Losnoth ruins, the party of adventurers who stand before you now were in the vicinity and heard Flenda’s scream. The party then came to her aid, slaying the nine orcs at the interrupted sacrifice without loss to themselves (although one of the dwarves in their party was gravely wounded). Flenda then directed the party to where her sister Gwenette was held captive, and the party slew several more sleeping orcs. As a bonus, the party also freed two gentlemen, names of Fredo and Jorgio, although Fredo has recently been killed at Mont du Plat.

When the party returned the girls to the village, they related all of the above to me. While the sisters returned to their parents home, the other adventurers stayed the night at our local inn, only to find the innkeeper, his wife, and daughter had turned into “zombies” (for want of a better word) overnight. The party managed to capture the folks from the inn rather than killing them, then came to me straightaways to relate what had happened.

Now, I had been developing a theory that something had poisoned the local water supply from the lake and river, and that that something had started poisoning the water shortly after the cleric and his pursuers had passed through Crystal Shores. I state this because I have not developed any of the signs of the illness, but then again I do not drink the local lake water. I collect rainwater, and also make spiced pumpkin ale from my large pumpkin patch, and eat mostly vegetables from my own garden. There are several other villagers who do not as of yet show any signs of sickness either, and they seem to also drink more of other beverages than lake water. For example, we have a local goatherd where he and his family mostly drink goat’s milk and eat the meat from their goats they have slaughtered themselves–none of them are sick. However, several fishermen and others who are routinely near the lake have fallen to the sickness.

Now, although I only briefly spoke with the traveling cleric on his way through our village, he said he was on his way to the ruins at Mont du Plat as he had heard there was a valuable artifact somewhere in the ruins. He planned to retrieve that artifact and return it to his church so they could convert it into money or some such plan. However, it seems that the cleric’s pursuers somehow knew the cleric was going to Mont du Plat to find some valuable relic, so they no doubt had plans to relieve him of that valuable bauble.

So, back to the party who stand before you. They were entreated to travel to Mont du Plat to see what they could find. What they found were several more zombies in the dungeon of the old ruins there, and the party had to slay those zombies, although losing two of their party in the battles. I formerly mentioned Fredo; they also lost the dwarf Persis. The party believes that four of the zombies they killed were the pursuers, as three of those zombies were clad in armor, and the fourth was dressed as a mage. They also found the body of the dead cleric, and that cleric’s backpack and diary. The diary mentions how the cleric found the ring in the ruins; I have enclosed that diary for your perusal.

But the most disturbing thing the party found was that the cleric’s arm had been severed, apparently in a fight with his pursuers, and his arm had fallen down the underground well. The party then recovered the arm from the well, and, on the ring finger of the hand of the dead cleric, was the ring the adventurers will now present to you. I pray you DO NOT TOUCH THE RING! It does appear the ring has the power to convert ordinary persons into zombies, and it seems that while the ring was in the well, its evil was able to be transmitted through the water to our downstream village. It should also be noted that us villagers have noticed the fish were so lethargic that they could easily be caught by hand, and some of the forest animals, such as deer and even wolves, have been seen acting queerly where they would just wander somewhat aimlessly. That ring does radiate a powerful aura of evil, so beware!

I have consulted my books of lore, but could find no reference to such a ring. I pray you can find information about the ring, and of even more importance, I am dearly hoping you can discern a method with which I can restore the sick villagers back to their former health. Please help us! If you can, we will be eternally in your debt.

As always, your most obedient servant,

Herschel Gobinmyer

Karnack mostly read it aloud, relating the party’s story of how they rescued some human captives from orcs at Losnoth, then after returning two young maidens to their village of Crystal Shores discovered that villagers were getting sick from some mysterious malady. The village druid, Herschel, had been unable to determine the cause or to devise a cure. Then the party visited Mont du Plat and found the evil ring that had apparently been polluting the water that flowed downstream to Crystal Shores. Karnack read, “… the ring the adventurers will now present to you. I pray you DO NOT TOUCH THE RING! Hmmm,” Karnack continued, “let me see the ring.” With that, Lightstep very carefully opened the bone scroll tube, and gently dropped the ring in its wrapping onto Karnack’s desk. Karnack then used a couple of wooden picks, much like chopsticks, to open the wrapping. He beheld the ring with its numerous small skulls for the first time, and let out a low whistle. He then finished reading aloud the letter from Herschel.

Charnalite ring

The ring that was found at Mont du Plat.

“It does appear we have a quandary,” said Karnack. “I have learned of such mischievous magics in the past, but do not directly recall such a ring. I must consult my tomes to see if I can discern any information about it. In the mean time, you and your companions are all my guests.” Karnack then spoke to the guards at the stairway. “Lieutenant, return these two guests to their companions, and make sure they are all well fed. Arrange baths for them, if they wish. Also provide them lodging in the west wall.” Just before Lightstep and Opalent left (leaving the ring and the bone scroll tube with Karnack), Karnack mentioned that it would most likely take him at least a day to find the information, even with the help of his scribes.

Lightstep and Opalent then retraced their steps to the courtyard, along with their guards, and then were ushered, along with their companions, to one of the larger wooden buildings inside the west wall of the castle. This building was the castle’s civilian mess hall. It had four eight-foot long wooden tables with wooden benches on two sides of each table. The dinnerware was ceramic, with the flatware being of beaten iron. Just about the time the party entered the building, the skies finally opened, and it began to rain a hard, steady, cold rain. The party was treated to the best meal they had enjoyed in a while, enjoying rabbit stew with carrots, onions, and potatoes, and fresh baked bread. There was plenty of salt and pepper for seasoning, too. Fresh cow’s milk was supplied to wash it all down.

While enjoying his meal, Vandin espied another dwarf sitting at another table. Since the other dwarf appeared to be a fighter, Vandin approached the other dwarf with a friendly greeting. Vandin was taken aback momentarily, however, when the other dwarf responded in a less than cordial manner, saying something that sounded like “go pluck yourself!” After a moment’s hesitation, Vandin asked if the other dwarf would like to join the group, promising an equal share of any treasure gained. With that, the other dwarf revealed his name as Douag (pronounced “doo-agg”), and agreed to join. Vandin then regaled Douag with tales of slaying five orcs in a row at Losnoth as they kept coming through a door one at a time. And then Flenda impressed Douag even more by showing him the two orc ears she had taken as a trophy!

After the meal, the party rested and was shown to where they would be quartered for the night inside the western wall of the castle (to get there they had to enter the ground level of the western tower beside the main gate, then travel inside the wall). Wooden walls had been erected to create separate rooms along the inside wall, with wooden doors for each room. On the floor in the rooms were mattresses stuffed with hay or moss, and there were plenty of woolen blankets. Some civilian servants asked if anyone wanted to bathe, and also offered to wash clothes for anyone who desired such. Plain gray robes were offered for anyone who decided to partake of bathing or clothes-washing. Lightstep wanted to find out what was in the vial of clear fluid he had procured from Mont du Plat, so he decided to take a small sip. He decided it tasted like plain, ordinary water, although he still wasn’t sure was it was. Eventually, the party all retired for the night in the rooms assigned to them.

— The Dungeon Master

Journey to Karnack’s Castle: The Second Day

January 16th, 2016

We now leave the action at the spider farm south of Rushtu’un, and return our attention to the other group of adventurers who are traveling to Karnack’s castle.

Day #2-26 (Airday, 6th Dewsnap, 4333 BCCC) The party were all awake by 6 am, ate some food, then began their march towards Karnack’s castle once again, with Vandin and Vox in the lead, as usual. The day promised fair weather, as at dawn there was not a cloud in sight. They continued to march mostly towards the northeast, always keeping the Braztook Hills at least a couple of miles away to their right. Fortunately, Herschel Gobinmyer had given them a fair map and had mentioned prominent landmarks to navigate by. The group reached the road between Ganzir-Galad to the west and Fenshaft to the east about an hour before noon, so they lay down behind a low hill where they could not be spotted from the road, and ate lunch and rested for about 30 minutes. They then crossed the road, turned mostly north for another five miles, then were able to resume their northeastern course. Finally, in the late afternoon, after journeying about 20 miles, they made camp again. After dinner, the party realized they had collectively eaten about half of the rations they had started this journey with. They reckoned it should be OK, though, as they reckoned they should only have another 10 or 15 miles of marching to reach Karnack’s castle on the morrow.

Before retiring for the night, again without a campfire, the party decided on their night watch order: 1st watch: Vandin & Vox; 2nd watch: Falafela & Opalent; 3rd watch: Lightstep & Tureg; 4th watch: Gwenette & Jorgio. Vandin and Vox stood their early watch uneventfully, and then around 9 pm Falafela and Opalent took over. As it grew darker, there were only the stars for light, as the moon was a late-rising moon. Toward the end of their three-hour watch, both Falafela and Opalent heard a horse snort just on the other side of the low hill to the east of the party’s camp. Lightstep had been awake since making camp, as he was worried about his dangerous cargo of the evil ring that had been found at Mont du Plat, and he too heard the horse. So, he decided to sneak to the top of the low hill and see what was on the other side. Maybe 75 yards away was a small campfire, and Lightstep could make out the shapes of several horses and possibly several human-sized shapes near the fire.

— The Dungeon Master