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Archive for February, 2011

This week marked a double, nay triple, nay, QUADRUPLE triumph all centered around tonights game session. Now if that isnt incredible,I dont know what is. First off, for the first time ever, Basement Games hosted two tables for this weeks encounter – two tables of four players apiece. Triumph of rising popularity? Check.

Secondly, my 13 year old son was the Dm of the second table – the youth table made up of kids his age and younger. He did a great job, they were laughing and had to be shushed a few times (heh heh) But the best yet was that they completed their encounter on time with us! Triumph of parenting? You bet!

Thirdly, I cant remember what thirdly was, – oh it was about having to work tons of overtime and coming straight from work, that sort of thing, so a triumph of diligence or something, but fourthly was that a new player showed up and had a great time, so another triumph there too. Anyway it was the first two triumphs of the night that were the big news, so there you have it. Two tables of four players, one of youths, and one adult, mature, elderly, senior, whatever you want to call it, it worked out perfectly. My biggest worry going into the idea would be that it would be splitting up a family (that sounds terrible) so the kids would be at my sons table, and the adults at mine. Luckily the parents were ok with the idea, and I feel confident it worked well for everyone involved. My only regret is that I wished I could be at both tables!

As mentioned, the players were split into two parties. In the senior group, we had Quinnigan the knight, Eriminikos the elf rogue, Valenae the cleric, and Jaren the wizard, played by the newcomer. In the youth group, they played with Belgos the drow, Edith the dwarf, another Jaren the wizard, and Brandis. I just realized that there was no healing, so the youth group had a slight disadvantage. If I had had more time to prepare, I might have switched the NPC stats of Faldyra with the NPC priestess from last season (at least for the youth table) but they made it through the scenario with only one PC down, so it worked out.

One more time I want to congratulate my son on a great job DMing. He came through with aplomb, and that is with zero preparedness. The second module was still in shrink at 6 pm, so he literally had NO time to prepare. Playing with that unruly bunch of kids, who love to bend, twist, and break the rules, takes great patience and improvisational skills, which he showed, not to mention the cat-herding involved. After the game, He told me he would rather DM for the adults, heh heh. One step at a time, lad.

So, on to the game. The half orc captain of the guard comes stomping to the rear of the caravan with an elf noble woman in toe. He introduces her as Faldyra, who will be the towns scholar upon arrival, and orders the group to accompany her on an expedition off the beaten path for some rare and important healing herbs. Since the caravan moves at the pace of the slowest ox-cart, they can range pretty far and wide without falling too far behind. In no time, Fadlyra has led them further and further into the foothills that surround the spur of the Dawnforge mountains. The day before, Malgram warned the expedition leader about skirting the mountains too close – orcs were known to inhabit the region, but Albus Splintershield insisted on taking the shorter route, and the party backed him up on that.

While they rested on rocks and under the shade of trees, Faldyra was scrabbling in the dirt, looking for her precious herbs, until she uttered a shout, and waved them over. It seems she had found an old camp site, and as the characters investigated, they began to put the clues together. It looks like the camp was ambushed some months ago. They found a bit of torn chainmail, and just then Faldyra pulled a long branch from under a pile of leaves. As she dusted it off, she saw it was a staff, with lightning bolts carved up its sides. She handed it to Jaren to inspect, who discovered it was a Staff of Storms +1. Since faldyra was a pacifist with no training in the dark arts of battle, she graciously let the war wizard keep her find. She also found a finger bone near the staff, probably off the mage who lost it.

The party was starting to get paranoid, but Faldyra convinced them to go a little further on, there was an interesting copse of trees ahead, prime area for her herb search. It was also a prime area for an ambush. (Was that foreshadowing?) As they neared the stand of trees, they noticed the ground was pockmarked with over-sized gopher holes. Faldyra ran ahead to investigate a patch of greenery, then let out a short shriek as the ground exploded around her. Nearly a dozen grubby goblins burst forth from their hidey-holes shouting their clan name “Wolverines!” as the prepared to attack. There were eight goblins total. Four wielded short bows, and the others held shortsword and daggers. The party was set upon by gob-bows and stabbers, it was a raiding party.

Only Erimikos was fast enough to go before the devious gobbos, and he punctured the nearest enemies throat with a quick flick of the wrists and a leaf-bladed dagger throw. The goblin went down screaming, and his allies launched a fusillade of arrows at the rogue in retort. Two of the stabbers surrounded Quinn. The goblins were naturallt sneaky, and when Quinn was surrounded bny them, the goblins played off each others tricky moves, allowing them to stab and slash deeper. Quinn was soon bloodied as he pounded the goblin in front of him. Soon he called up his reserves of energy, and using his hammer-hands move, he struck the goblin with such force, its head exploded, showiering them n gore.

Behind him, Valenae and Jaren were beset upon by the other stabbers. The wizard was hemmed in and unable to fire off a ranged spell, so he doused a stabber in a sheet of fire from his flaming hands. When theflames dissipated, only a pile of charred bones marked were the goblin once stood. Erimikos was getting hammered by the arrows, but the cleric was in trouble, so he launched himself across the field and stabbed deeply into the goblin, flanking it between him and Valenae. His dagger thrust nearly disemboweled the nasty little brute, but it refused to fall.

Meanwhile, from the edge of battle, out of harms reach, Faldyra crouched in the grass, and cheered them on. She was always shouting out tactical advice, such as “Hit it!” to the fighter or “Use your spell!” to the wizard. Needless to say, her advice was more enthusiastic than helpful. Her guards were having a tough time of it. Despite the goblin heads exploding, the remaining bush-wackers were confident they could take the party down, and with a lucky strike, one of the slashers dropped the wizard. He crowed to his cousins that they would fest well tonight, and it inspired another goblin to turn and take down the rogue, who was decimating the goblin ranks. Then they turned their eyes on the lovely clreric, imagining her roasting over a flame.

Jaren the wizard dlay in the grass and dreamt of goblins, more and more goblins popping their heads out of the ground until there were as many goblins as there were leaves of grass. Valenae came to his aid though. She would not be daunted, and healed the mage. Valenae then turned and struck the goblin stabber a mighty blow on the head with her mace. More brains and blood spattered the crowd. Faldyra was like “That’s the ticket!”

By this point Quinn was bloodied and staggering, but still standing. One goblin down, he moved on to the next, and they traded blows, once twice, thrice he struck it without finishing it. Then Jaren stood up from the dirt, dusted himself off, and launched a forked lightning bolt, one in front of him to finish off the last bow-wielding gobbo, and a fork of lightning behind to strike Quinns wounded stabber in the back of the head, sending prodigious amounts of gore in every direction as the last goblin fell.

The characters did a quick search of their slain enemy, finding semi-precious stones and a few coins totaling 25 gold for each of them. About then Faldyra mentioned that maybe they had strayed too far and should head back. The rest of the party was like “Ya think?” but they were friends now, and as they hurried to rejoin the caravan Fadyra said she would not mind if they didn’t mention the attack to Malgram, who loved nothing more than to be proved right.

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Draw, flip, slap, or yahtzee?After defusing the wizard-locked door to the basement, the heroes wisely decided to call it a day. They retreated back upstairs to the bedroom of the ghostess in pink. Moving a large dresser in front of the door, they made themselves as comfortable as possible and rested through the night. At about midnight, they heard soft footsteps outside the door, coming nearer. Thokk began dragging the dresser away to open the door as Hex woke the others. Just then a soft knocking on the door and Hex opened it to reveal the old white bearded man who introduced himself as Obitello the enchanter. He held a hand written note in a shaking hand. The rays of moonlight fall across his silvery hair and white robes from the windows in the hall as he read aloud what he was planning on slipping under their door.

“I only have a moment of clarity before the darkness descends over my mind. I do not know who you are, or why you are here, but you are in danger. The magic on this island is strong, and tainted by chaos of the elemental abyss which bubbles up from below. Unless the devils who have invaded this house are destroyed, all who enter are doomed to be enslaved by them, slowly turning into devils yourself. My three apprentices, who are also my children, have succumbed to the darkness. You will be next, already it may be too late. Leave now and save yourselves, or descend into the dungeon below and eradicate the evil that is older than this house. The hearts of my children bind the demons to this land. Take them away and the demons can be destroyed.”

They had the chance to question him and learn a few things. His daughters are named Ismelda and Isolde, and his son is is Xvart. The invisible creatures on the island he calls “his children” but not his actual children, are a primitive race of halflings. They are invisible because he got angry at them one day for t complaining about how ugly they were without fur coats and that they hated all their clothes. Only by regaining his lost spellbook could they be made visible once again. The spellbook is in the hands of a man named Shalazar Shackleton, explorer and adventurer who also might be an old flame of Obitellos eldest daughter. The only escape from the privvy is out the door or down the chute for all he knows.

The old wizard suddenly had a blank looked and asked for his crown. He was returning to his confused state but before he was too far gone, they learned his assistant and favorite native, nicknamed Friday took the crown, also known as the Philosophers Crown, back to his people, who dwelt over the mountains eastward to the steaming jungle. Obitello said that rather than helping them, it would bring them to ruin. The crown was magical and gave the gift of knowledge to its wearer, and it also protected against the madness of his island. As they walked him back into his room, he looked towards an empty corner and asked what happened to his spellbook. Obitello then fell into a deep sleep, and the rest of the night passed without incident.

Games within Games

Next morning they set out. poppy looked longingly out into the front hedge maze as they passed the entry chamber, searching for a unicorn-horned bunny. Down through the doors they passed – literally – after Poppy was unable to pick the lock, Thokk burst the doors asunder. They entered a clean well-lit dungeon, made up of stone blocks, the chamber was lit by two softly glowing orbs floating near the ceiling. In the southern end of the room gurgled a fountain, and near it stood a stand with three ever-burning torches. The party it was determined had plenty of light sources, from a magical miners cap, to a flaming sword, spells, rituals, you name it, the party could super-nova and turn into a small suns worth of light at a moments notice.

The door to the north was odd-shaped, being perfectly round. it looked older of construction than the rest of the dungeon. (This is the part I forgot to tell them:) Written in chalk across the door are the words “Frog God” and a chain once crossed from handle through the hinges, locking the door closed, but they now hang broken and limp.

There were two small doors to the northeast showing colored flashing light from beneath, and the faint sound of bells. Poppy ccould hear the quiet murmur of conversation and the clink of glasses. poppy went through one door while Hex entered through the other. The room had three game tables set up. Cards, a spinning wheel, dice, and other strange gambling games were flashing and ringing, while overseeing it all on a wide bench in the corner was a smiling devil reclining on a cushioned bench. In one hand he spun a beating heart encased in crystal like a basketball on his fingertip. In the other, he swung a silver chain with tiny razorblades on the links. The chain wrapped around his arm, his waist, and even around a leg. He greeted them heartily and invited them to stay.

Poppy and Hex rightfully hesitated, but their eyes were attracted to the flair and pomp of the magnificent games. A bunny race made up of crystal figurines sent through a maze of wooden walls while the table spun attracted the elfs attention, and she was compelled to play. Hex noticed a game that started with a domino set. When certain patterns were made, it led to the roll of dice that determined which deck of cards to draw from. If the pattern on the card matched, try to catch the fish! The space monkey sat down to play, he had an angle.

From the outer chamber, the rest of the party heard the excitement and rushed to join just as the devil bellowed forth. “Welcome to my gambling emporium! Sit down, enjoy the games. Stay awhile, ha ha ha… But shut those doors!” Ria sat at Hexes table, Felipe joins Poppy, and Thokk and Sharia sit down to a game of bash the spinning halfling heads. At each table was a sad spirit of a mortal person silently playing the game. The recognized the young man in purple pants from the dinner party. A dealer was at aevery table, a dark shade, just a tracery of man-like dark shadow.

The game tables were continuously charming the anyone on the game floor, and dominating those whose will the tables overcame – compelling them to play or stand idle. That was ot all, the devil watched for cheating, and when he deemed a move was heating, he struck out with his silve3r lash. Each participant could call upon all their skills to influence the rounds of the games they played. Each hero chose their best skills to use, and many hands were won. They knew through intuition, that they needed 5 successes to win each game. They also knew that if they won, the devil would accuse them of cheating and attack – the only way to win was to defeat him. But first they had to play the game because every one of them was dominated on he first round,though Poppy was first to break free. Once free of the domimation, she bolstered her will with a potion of wisdom, and remained free of the domination for the rest of the battle.

Hex was able to break free, but after each round of the game, it drew him back in. Ria was lost, compelled to play the game till the bitter end. By the third round, she was beginning to fade away. Felipe won her and Poppys table, and the two of them were invited to play at the devils private table. Thokk and Sharia were struggling, with only 2 out of four rounds of halfling head bopper won. Thokk began fading away, like the poor spirits in the seats next to him. Poppy kicked the table over and attacked.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it

Even as Poppy attacked, Gorechain the bemused devil retaliated with the swing of his chain, and Hex, free of his game table after a hard fought victory, teleported the devil across the room. But the devil had an aura of slashing chains damaging anyone near him. Ria, free at last and returning to full solidity, dropped a divine circle of healing which mostly negated the slashing aura of the chains, healing the wounds as they were dealt. Blood flew, the chain swung and the battle was faqst and furious. Sharia took her immovable rod and placed it to clear an area of aura, into which Felipe stepped and pounced. Around the room they fought, slashing chains almost knocked Hex out, but instead they wrapped around his limbs, forcing him, but He once again shook off the chains – this time physical – of domination. Another pounce of Felipe tore through the devils chest and ripped his black heart right out of his chest.

As the devil gasped out his last curse, the crystal shattered around the heart of Obitellos son Xvart, and poppy caught it in her hands and transferred it into a cloth bag, wondering what to do with a still beating heart.

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Journey forth into adventure

The third season of Encounters was hosted at my local game store, the Basement Games, in Zona Rosa KC Northland. This adventure coincided and focused on the new look of the game: Essentials. This 9-10 set of ‘ever-green’ soft cover books, gave a slightly different playstyle than the full 4th edition. Just as the name suggests, it has a tighter focus on character designs. One might say the game is re-inspired by its old-school roots, like in the way characters gain class features and special abilities at various levels, rather than a diet of powers: dailies, encounters, at-wills, and utilities. The adventure too had its roots in the glrious days of Old school, with the title taken from a module of yore, the Keep on the Borderlands, written by the father of our game, E.Gary Gygax (1938-2008). A friendly friar Benwick enlists the aid of a fresh new band of heroes who find a lot more than they are looking for. A season of serpents indeed.


Season 3 Essentials: Keep on the Borderlands

Week 1
Week 2
Week 3
Week 4
Week 5
Week 6
Week 7
Week 8
Week 9
Weeks 10 and 11
Week 12
Week 13 – Bill dm’ed
Week 14
Week 15
Week 16
Week 17
Week 18 – snowed out
Week 19
Week 20 – The Grand Finale

This was an excellent adventure, one I would recommend to anyone. Not strictly railroaded, even though each encounter is preordained, the party fights no less than three (!) dragons, at least one dinosaur, and countless lizard folk, in dungeons, swamps, even on the castle walls, and become heroes of the Borderlands by adventures end.

Sunset over the Keep on the Boderlands

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A new adventure awaits!

For four seasons now, I have arrived my local game store, set up the evenings encounter, and waited nervously to see if anyone would show up to play with me. It must come from some childhood experience, or my own feelings of inadequacy, but on the first night of a new Encounters season, I am always sure that no one will show up, and the store will laugh me out the door, my failures as a compelling Dm on display for all to mock, shamed.

For the fourth time now, my premonitions have thankfully failed to come to pass. Every opening night, I have had at least 4 people show up, and in season 2, and now season 4, I have had all or most of my previous season’s players return for the new adventure. It is very gratifying, although I go out of my way to insure everyone that plays that there is no commitment, and only come if they want to play, not because they feel an obligation. Experience seems to dictate that letting everyone know there is nothing expected of them actually helps retain players.

The season started with a bang, and except for a couple of teenagers, all the regulars from the previous season were back for another rousing night of killing and looting. It was a full table of 7 players. Every pre-gen got picked up except for Brandis, who will be in use next week by a player not able to play the opening encounter. (For very important homework reasons. Remember kids, school is more important than playing D&D, so hurry up and finish your homework on the bus or something!) Besides the pre-gens, our old warhorse Bill was back and he had Quinn with him. Apparently that whole business with the evil friar and the dragons was one big bad dream. A fresh faced level 1 Quinn set out, groundhog-day like to make his mark on the Nentir Vale, hopefully this time it will stick. Besides Quinn, my son Jackson brought a summer druid Yinch and his faithful wolf-hound Gintao. Hilarious Merrick from last season is back as Drizzzi-Belgos Strongbow drow archer ranger. Rather than the backs of his enemies, this character showed a propensity for climbing trees. The wizard Berrian retired his robes for the Wizard Jaren. The husband and wife team took up the elf rogue, whose sex and name were changed to Erinikos (i think) and the dine half of the pair stayed true. Their kids took up the dwarf, who was changed to Edith, and for next week Brandis. Whew. Onto the game.

Hammerfast is a unique city, being… yadda yadda. They were gathered together to join a caravan of settlers, setting out to found a new colony in the ruins of an ancient castle of yore, the Castle of Inverness to be exact. Hired by an enthusiastic dwarf Aldus Splintershield, the party was thrown together as the caravans ‘rear guard’ due to their unique abilities. They had 4 wagons and their occupants under their protection. They also met the gruff half orc second in command, who was to be the head of the town guard upon arrival. Thus Malgram also considered himself the superior to the lower caravan guards. The caravan set out one misty morning…

Aldus encouraged each of the dozens of settlers as they moved through the gate, and at last walked alongside the caravan guards, telliong them of the glories to come. They would go down in history! The caravan guards, were veterans, and had heard it all before. Each of them in turn introduced themselves, and gave a brief reason why they were making a new home in the colony. There were many great reasons. Brothers, a lone knight, a dwarf who hated ghosts, and many others. The first day of the three day journey passed without incident.

The next day, the road ended and they turned into the hills. The rangers of Hammerfast bid them farewell. Belgos spoke with his brethren of the rest of the journey, but leaned little of value. Soon they heard shouting from the head of the caravan. Quinn was first to investigate. Behind him came the dark elf brothers Belgos and Yinch. “Use logic dwarf! The mountains are swarming with orcs. We should take the forest path!” To which their benefactor Aldus Splintershield replied “nonsense, it put put us half a day behind, we will take the mountain path. The orc roared his disapproval just as Quinn stepped forward to see if there was a problem. He was suspicious of the half orc, being so wary of his own kind. Just then the sound of steel was heard behind the half orc, and from out of the shadows of a tree the ranger Belgos appeared, trying to swing his blade around the half orcs neck. But the guard captain was too swift, and his double battle axes were off his shoulders and in his hands as he turned to face his assasssin. Too late the druid Yinch grabbed for his brother, and the ranger had to sheathe his weapon and return to duty at the rear of the wagon train.

Day three dawned overcast and dreary, and by noon they came to a crossing. The caravan was divided by the arduous crossing, and broke up into sections, with our party as the last to cross. Just then a buzzing, flapping sound was heard and over the trees flew a frightening flock of four winged stirges, with grapsing claws and a rapier sharp proboscis. The flock of six stirges and a large bloated stirges were heading for the horses pulling the four wagons rather than the guard party behind them. The druids wolf Gintau was first to go, and raced for the stream while the druid helped coax a horse across the stream. Once across, the wagon rambled away, out of the stirges area of attack. Then the lead flock of three red stirges swept in, and two of them struck the wolf, knocking him out. Every member of the party then spent their turn helping the wagons across, while the next wave of stirges attacked. A peasant was instantly slain by the stirge, and a new level of worry entered the party. Finally the big bloated stirge, the dirge stirge, swept in and latched onto the poor cleric. Luckily she ws eladrin, perfectly suited to escaping such an attack by her ability to teleport away.

By the end of the first round, the party had successfully evacuated the four wagons under their control. However, during that round another settler was slain. The dwarf Edith slew the dirge stirge nearly by herself, with a massive 24 point attack. She chopped two of its wings off. Jaren blasted a wing of, and Erinikos was next with his sneak attack and backstab, sending it floating dead and wingless down the stream. Jaren used arc lightning except when he was hit by a stirge, and had to use his staff. Wizards making melee basic attacks ares something of a specialty of mine. He hit with an 18 and back to the arc lightning next round, he scorched the stirges mightily. With his wolf struggling under a barrage of stirges, Yinch was forced to take his scimitar to the hideous creatures, slicing in every direction. Quinn charged, slew, charged again. Edith did the same. Even the cleric got into the spirit of it with her swinging mace, but after 5 rounds, there were still four stirges left. Belog was in the crook of a tree, and hit two stirges with his first volley, but then shouldered his bow and with a wild scream charged into the fray with his longsword swinging.

At 8:15, the remaining 3 stirges flew away, and each character took 5 points damage, except for those taking ongoing damage, who took 10 points. I would have liked to play it out, as it was likely someone would go down, though their ultimate victory was assured. Some of my favorite mothers were there and ready to brave the blistering cold to get their kids home, so it was time to wrap up. Stirges as a deliciously evil monster to throw at a party, and I can recount many a tale of woe from them, from the old temple of elemental evil, where a certain, to more recent events. The added challenge of protecting the caravan at all costs was a great incentive.

I completely forgot to mention fortune cards. That makes since, considering how often I used them. The only time I touched the fortune cards was to give everyone who showed up to play a complimentary deck. I explained their use briefly at the beginning of the encounter, ad then left it completely up to the players to handle. Some of the players used them, some didnt, and I paid very little attention to their use, other than to hear a card when a player thought it was applicable. There were one or two cases where they came into play, but I feel something needs to be developed, some kind of hook, or link to the character. Since they are purely a player-side product, I am observing their usage, and adjudicating when necessary, and little else. Despite all that, since I have a sizable deck myself (thanks to Wizards of the Coast for supplying a dozen sample packs) I am still considering alternate ways to use them, such as boons or awards/rewards.

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A new adventure awaits!

Tomorrow February 9 marks an auspicious beginning to a new season of Encounters. Our campaign will be run from 6 to 8 pm every Wednesday for the next 13 weeks at the best game store in northland KC, The Basement Games. March of the Phantom Brigade will take and brand new group of 1st level Dungeons and Dragons 4 Essentials characters up to 3rd level. Here is a bit of back story:

Over sixty years ago, a group of bold adventurers calling themselves the Silver Company delved into a mysterious tower that appeared in the ruins of Castle Inverness. The result was tragic.

Now, six decades later, an ambitious young cleric named Aldus Splintershield, seeking to make a name for himself and his clan, has organized a group of settlers to found a new town in the ruins of Castle Inverness. The heroes have been hired by Brother Splintershield to help ensure that the caravan reaches Inverness safely.

This will be the 4th season of encounters Ive DM’ed, and made many great friends along the way. From the awesome dudes at the game store to the great people who sit down with me to play for a couple hours every week, this is why I do what I do, I guess. That or some weird obsession with destroying monsters and men with arcane weapons, who knows, right? I hope to see all my players return, and look forward to rolling dice with plenty more new people.

And for added fun, there will be prizes.

prizes

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Amber Mansion

Tonights episode began with the heroes being washed up on the shore of the enchanters isle. The isle-within-isle is a magical nexus of arcane energy. The islet rises like an undulating hillock out of the lake with the mansion at its peak, surrounded by a great hedge. There is an arched opening in the shrub ahead. A skin and tree limb canoe is pulled up in the grass near them, and also the recent tracks of the displacer beast curve off to the west towards a grove of trees. From that direction can be heard sounds of movement, and a line of smoke rises from the edge of the tree line.

Felipe chose to scout ahead of the rest, and as she crept over a rise in direction of the trees, she saw what looked like a hastily abandoned camp, with a rabbit on a spit over a fire, and hammocks strung between trees as well as various pieces of furniture, table, chest,s and even a few chairs. She heard a scuffle over another rise in the ground, and crawling over the top, she saw the panther on its side, growling and flailing its tendrils, whilst fighting an invisible foe. One voice shouted “Uga chuka!” and a red burst of blood appeared on the panthers chest. A crowd chanted “Chuka Chuka!” and the lone voice shouted angrily “Uga uga Chuka!” and the crowd agreed, “Uga uga, Chuka Chuka,” enthusiastically. Felipe returned to the rest of the party and they decided to head towards the mansion, leaving the feline to its fate.

Inside the tall, thick hedge was a another hedge-wall blocking forwards progress, but a pebbled path cut left to right. They chose the left route, and when there was another crosee section, they chos the right. Soon Hex and Thokk got together and choosing the side in the direction of the house, they chopped into it with their diabolical weapons. Instantly there was a high pitched squealing sound, and all were dazed to see four white shapes come streaking out of the Shrubs. They were like rabbits… with unicon horns. SIlver and sharp, the horns bit into Hex and Thokk as a pair attacked each. Their teeth too were silver and sharp. The two had trouble bringing their large weapons to bear on the tiney creatures who swarmed around them, moving with them and staying underfoot before launching a bite or horn attack. The rest of the party stood mesmerized, until finally Hex speared on on the end of his sword. it squealed and disintegrated into silvery powder. Ria managed to skewer one on the end of a divine ray of light, and it too disintegrated. Thokk had trouble and was beginning to bleed profusely from the long horns and little sharp teeth until Poppy managed to hack one away. Finally the last al-mi-raj was dealt with.

They stepped through the hedge wall and into the courtyard before the front doors of the mansion. The house was large with wings off either side. It had a staely lok but was dilapidated, with paint peeling from the walls, and the yard was unkempt and weedy, though not totally overgrown. Above the door in large glittering letters was the word “AMBER”. The doors were shut but unlocked, and pushing through the party stepped into a large gallery. Two sets of stairs led up a baclony, with large stone gargoyels at the top of each flight. To either side of the front doors was a life size angelic statue in solid silver. The rest of the chamber was richly decorated, though dusty and cobwebby. It also looked recently disturbed, with turned over tables, chairs pulled out of place, and tracks all over. To the left was the dining room and beyond, the kitchens, while to the right, a hallway led to other dim chambers.

Thokk was the first to step forward, and he went straight to the dining room to investigate the piles he saw on that large table. finding a chair, he sat down and started pawing through the dust and web covered platters and place settings. Dull silver gleamed under the grime, and Thokk was just putting a rock hard biscuit between his tusks when he beheld a strange sight. Two young women and a man of ghostly apparition floated through a nearby wall and in complete silence, though they appeared to be chatting with one another, took their seats. One young lady was in a pink dress, and one older lady was in an elegant white gown. The young man wore a white shirt with a huge poofy frill at the front, and tight purple flared pants with a gold stripe down the sides that flared out and curled up at the cuffs.

Thokk was unable to get their attention or hear their words, and the rest of the party looked on from the entry hall as more ghosts appeared from the kitchen. The swinging doors remained motionless as four servants appeared in a row and set four plates of soup down in front of the diners. The one in front of THokk seemed real enough and he could smell onions. He began eating the thik onion soup, and as he finished with a belch, he sat back in his chair, feeling fortified. He gained 3 permanent hit points. (Take that character builder) Soon enough Felipe, Poppy, Ria, and Hex raced forward to grab seats before the next course, a tall glass of aber wine poured from silver ewers.

More courses, including a steaming slice of bread straight from the oven, spread with melting butter. Upon eating a slice, one was transformed by the experience. SOme were fulfilled and took no more slices of bread, and they became immune to the affects of starvation, for the others, they took up a second slice of bread, and ever afterwards, they required twice as much food and drink to sustain themselves. High metabolism – today considered a benefit, would once have been a negative. But enough about the dinner. It soon ended, and a final small cordial of amber brandy was served. They noticed the three ghosts instantly grabbed there brandy up ad swallowed them down. This gave everyone but Thokk pause – he on the other hand, saluted the god of blood and thunder and swallowed his glass. A moment passed where he felt strange, as if the hands of fate were moving but the moment passed (and he lived.)

Moving on, a mad cackling was heard from the balcony, and a ball of flame came lurching down the stairs and slammed into the half orc. (It was just not his night, though he did gain 3 permanent hps out of it, and over the course of his career, a quick estimate would be it will save him a total of 3700 hp, or 3.7 percent of the 100,00 hp in damage he will take by the time he is 30th level.) Shalazar Shackleton stood at the top of the stairs. He had a crazed look and held a large spell book in his hands. He was dressed in boots and leather breeches, but wore a vest of animal fur, and a girdle with 20 fine bladed daggers. He tore a book out of the spell book and threw it into the air while speaking arcane words. The pge crmbled into black dust which formed itself into two shadowy forms that slowly wafted to the floor taking on humanoid form. Living clouds of knives came flying out of the kitchen with another page torn, and Shazzy Shack tossed daggers at the heroes doiwn below while screaming how now the ghosts had taken form. He was really crazed.

Thokk and Hex charged the stairs,a and the gargoyles lurched forward to attack as Shalazar Shackleton ran in fear down the hall. Thokk was right behind him and got in a savage blow with his axe just before the shazz dodged into a lavatory and dove down the dark, malodorous hole within that privy chamber. Before he went down, he pulled one last page from the book, and as it disintegrated, skeletal hands, right and left, crawled from a cracks between floor and wall to attack. Below, Poppy slew the dark shadows just as one of the silver statues animated as an angel of retribution, silver great sword flashing. Another time, after killing the living knife spells with a flaming spell of the druid, another living fireball appeared out of her magical energies.

After the magic battle, the heroes searched the four bedrooms upstairs, and in the first three they found the ghosts of the three from the dining room lying atop made beds. The rooms seemed typical of a noble or rich private bed chamber, and in the chamber of the young lady who wore pink, they found a well read booklet of poetry. Investigating her ghostly figure, they realized their was a hole in her chest where her heart should be. The infamous hole under the dress, and the hope chest at the foot of her bed. Not like a jagged bloody hole or anything, just an emptiness that they knew was going to wind up some kind of quest they were going to have to solve. Man, how they hate quests! The lady in white and the man with the pants had similar missing hearts. The whole time the party is upstairs, Felipe was calmly polishing silver and putting it into her bag of holding. She got a setting for eight, including goblets, utensils, and an ewer. Estimated value 10gp per piece.

In the fourth bedchamber they found an old wizard who was very much alive, but napping. He couldnt be roused for more than a few second at a time, and whenever he was awake, he first noticed his crown was missing, then he would notice his spell book was not on its table in the corner of his room. Felipe and Ria use the downstairs kitchen to make a potion that will rouse him. He wakes up and manages to answer a few question. He says his crown was taken by his assistant Friday, who must have taken them back to his people in the steaming jungle. He does not know what happened to his spell book but was adamant it must be returned. So saying, the characters explore a door they found in the kitchen which leads to stairs downwards. There is a landing, then the stairs turn and end at a door. Thokk noticed a silver rune mark. on the door. (He had earlier blown himself up after ignoring a similar sigil on one of the nobles doors.) He stepped back to let Poppy try to disarm it, and it instead blew up in her and Hex’ face. The party retreated back to the chamber of the lady in pink, barricaded the door, and prepared to spend a night in the enchanters mansion.

Also, something about horses. But we will end it here.

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The new old

The conclusion to the season of serpents

A record snowfall in a winter full of snow has really reduced the turn out to a great adventure. I myself missed two encounters (and one was covered by a player who graciously stepped in to DM for the night) this season. The grand finale of Keep on the Borderlands: A Season of Serpents took place on a Wednesday ollowing blizzard-like snowfall the previous day. Nonetheless, 4 adventurous souls stepped forward to bring the story to conclusion, by finally defeating the treacherous friar Benwick and his serpentine summonings. Three of the players, that of Merrick, Berrian, and Faverel, were veterans who came to most encounters this season, whilst Eldeth was played to great avail by one of the mothers.

I began with a recap of what happened, and touched upon the friendliness of the Friar Benwick, the offering of food and work and pay. They saved him and his friends more than once, and even did his dirty work by helping to burn down the bank of Ronnick. Then Benwicks betrayal and escape, t return at the head of a lizar man army. The heroes accepted the horns of command from Lord Drysedale on the eve of battle. Then they fought a behemoth at the front gates and repelled a storm of reptilians. Then they heard the lords horn from the town cente where he fought the black dragon. The heroes rushed to his aid, stopping along the way (this was cancelled for snow) to collapse a house which had a tunnel under the walls fo the lizard men to use.

Arriving in the town square they found and killed the dragon Yulbraxus, and followed the trail, that led to the inner keep, a throne room and banquet hall. Around the corner came Ronnick, with a chain from his ankle to an iron ball he wielded like a mace. Eldeth convinced the man they helped convict to team up with them, which he did. With Ronnick and Chandara, the 2 wizards, rogue, and slayer burst into the inner keep to confront their enemy.

I handed each person a fortune card (which I received as part of a dm reward from the makers of DnD Wizards of the Coast.) They did not get much use, except for one epic time where Merrick was able to cut in half the damage he took from being caught inside Berrians Flaming hands. That might have been the only one used. Also, to up the challenge level, ad to reduce the paperwork, I told the players that each of them had 2 healing surges and full hit points left, but no action points. They could recharge their action point by doing something awesome, like bloodying or killing a foe. Most character regained their action point during the combat.

The characters leapt into action, with Merrick hiding in shadows to creep up from behind. Then Eldeth charged the snake. The wizards cast their spells over snake and man. Then Friar Benwick went, his first act to cast the snake minion spell. Merrick attacked from hiding and bull rushed the friar into the oven behind him. The battle continued and soon Benwick recovered, shifted out of the brazier, and did staff attacks against the rogue and one wizard. The rogue would have dropped, but he was saved by Chendara long enough to drag Dryesdale free of the battle, and cast a dagger over his shoulder which was the blow that finally dropped Friar Benwick to the ground, defeated at last.

A fine end to a fine adventure. I made a few changes along the way, mostly to accommodate the number and knowledge level of players around the table (and once just because I was in the mood for a large crocodile.) The NPC interactions, the brilliant additions of allies in the final battles, the seige itself which I think in a full adventure could be dran out into an over-arching skill challenge – this is an adventure that really opens up the possibilities, and I sincerely hope Wizards releases this adventure as some kind of starter adventure at some point. It is a classic in the making. While not a re-imagining of the original keep these many years ago, it nonetheless, is a great example of intelligent, fun adventure design. I know we all had fun playing it, crazy as our eclectic group of players is here in the Basement.

Next week, same time, same place, we begin to investigate the haunted castle of Inverness.

March of the Phantom Brigade

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