Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Castles and Crusades (Session 5, Oct 27 09)

Players - PCs
Ed - Roog (1/2 ogre fighter)
Ray - Lassirial (Elf assassin)
Paul - Drizzle Spatchcock (Human MU)

*Thiala - (Human Female Paladin)
Elmo - (Human Ranger)

*My eldest daughter played Thiala (yeah, I spelled it wrong last posting), for a little while last night.

Two of our our players bowed out last night, so we played with 4 (3 after my daughter left.) and due to an imminent winter storm warning, cut it off a bit earlier than normal.

We opened with the group entering Hommlet about 2 hours before the dawn, after a long journey through the swamp and then west on the "Great Road". As they entered town they noticed small plates of food surrounded by nearly burnt-out candles, sitting on porches and steps everywhere.

Not sure what to make of this strange tradition, Elmo split off for home while the rest of the party proceeded to the Inn of the Welcome Wench. After waking one of Ostler's daughters they were soon sitting before a well stocked table of breakfast food. A few things of note occurred during the meal:
  1. Broog showed Ostler and the head cook his mushrooms (called Night Caps) that had been harvested from under the Moat House. They were indeed rare and according to Ostler, very expensive. So much so that the small bag, once traded, paid for breakfast, rooms and a "formal" dinner that evening which will feature dishes created with the special mushrooms.
  2. Ostler's daughter told them that the candles and food were for the fey folk. On each full moon and new moon a small sacrifice of food must be made, or the fey become upset and bad things happen.
  3. All the goods that the party garnered from their journey to the Moat House were laid out for others to view. Many workmen and locals, in for breakfast, saw the treasures and were amazed.
A well deserved rest followed the hearty breakfast, allowing the party to catch up on much needed sleep.

Eight hours later and the party is sending out invitations for the formal supper to those in town that might be interested in purchasing items from the Moat House. These people are also quite important dignitaries in town and it is for this reason as well that Drizzle is interested in them.

The list of invitees is as follows:
  1. Rufus and Burne
  2. Canon Terjon of the church of St. Cuthbert
  3. Brewmeister Jep
  4. Gremag and Ranos Davl from the Traders Establishment
And of course all the members of the party, Freddy, Fisk, Lassirial, Thaila, Brool and Drizzle, are in attendance as well.

Lassirial hangs back and carefully watches each who enters, trying to figure them out and assess their relative strengths. This information is then relayed to Drizzle, who stores it away for future reference. The assassin finds out some surprising things while verifying some suppositions:
  • Rufus and Burne are who they claim to be
  • Gremag and Ranos are more than they claim to be (Gremag also somehow recognizes Lassirial's assassin's symbol sewn into his clothing)
  • Canon Terjon is gruff, yet also quite experienced
  • Brewmeister Jep is who he says he is
  • Ostler is more than he says as well
Wine is poured and hors d'oeuvres are served while items from the Moat House are perused and conversation is had. Canon Terjon takes immediate interest in the silver sphere with the small black stone-tadpole within. He claims that it is a religious item from a long lost god, who he's not certain. But the item itself is called an Egg of the Old One, and he says it would be ill advised to handle another one. They've been lucky this time around.

Other items go to other people and all in all the group makes a grand total of 900 gold pieces! The following is a list of items sold:
  • A jeweled dagger
  • 2 bolts of fine cloth
  • Crystal flagon and 4 goblets
  • Inlaid wooden box with ivory handles
  • A couple suits of armor (2 leather, 1 scale and 1 ring)
  • A longsword, spear, and 2 short swords
All in all a pretty decent take.

This is where we ended it.

A couple questions for next session that the group might want to think about:
  1. Did you want to sell the sphere to Canon Terjon?
  2. What's the deal with Gremag and Ranos?
  3. The job at the Moat House is not yet finished...there's pay to be had via Burne.
  4. Burne would like to compare the party's maps of the Moat House with what he has.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Book Review 'The Deed of Paksenarrion'

I don't often do book reviews. Well heck, let's be honest here, I've never done a book review, and there's a reason for that. I often think that reviews are generally meaningless. All of them are subjective and if anyone knows anything about people, it's that, "what appeals to one, won't appeal to all". So going into this with eyes wide open, and realizing that I'm being absolutely and completely subjective here, I'm going to attempt to write down my impressions of the book 'The Deed of Parksenarrion'.

First and foremost, I'd hadn't heard of this book until a buddy that I play D&D with was telling me about it after we had a discussion about paladins. So, I had no real preconceived notions, other than the paladin thing, going into it. This is surprising really, I used to be a voracious reader and it came out about the time that I was reading 2 to 3 books a week. How did I miss it? I'm not sure.

Written by author Elizabeth Moon in 1988 and 89 as a three volume set, the omnibus was published as a whole in 1992, and for that I'm glad. Personally, I absolutely LOVE having a series in one book. I loathe having to traipse all over the city looking for the second or third in a series if the local shop has sold out. Yuck. Sure it's a "big" load when travelling, but I'm OK with that.

Now, as for my overall impression of the story itself, I loved it. It was the first book in a long time that I've had a tough time putting down. There were a lot of reasons for this I imagine.

The author had military experience and it showed. Much of the book takes place while Paksenarrion is in the military and there is a lot of texture that the author injects that lends such realism. She does a great job of also portraying a very strong and competent heroine. There are things that go wrong, yes, she gets injured, but overall, Elizabeth Moon does a very good job of making you believe that there's a little bit more to this girl Paksenarrion.

Another thing that I noticed right away was that the author played Dungeons and Dragons. There were obvious references to it throughout the book. James M. over at Grognardia has blogged about books that have been influenced by the game versus books that have influenced the game. Like him, I generally prefer the later category. I'm not a big fan of books that have nearly literal links to the game. But this one was different.

The references, while obvious, weren't overdone and heavy handed. Moon changed things subtly so that if you didn't know anything at all about Dungeons and Dragons things would still make plenty of sense. In other words, she didn't assume that people reading the book were gamers.

But if you read closely you'll run across references that are just so old school that you can't help but smile. Elizabeth probably played the game during the "golden age" of D&D, and the little tid-bits that you come across are so obviously "Gygaxian". I really loved those parts of the book. Heck, I loved the whole book.

I'm not going to tell any of the story here, but suffice it to say that the writing isn't your standard high fantasy. Yes there are elves, dwarves, gnomes, orcs and even the equivalent of Drow, but magic, as it pertains to the setting is very rare and wondrous. In other words the overall story is very gritty.

The story takes place on a much more humanistic level so there's no hugely sweeping, fantastical vistas or world crushing magic spells, etc. It's a very down to earth, if such a thing can be said, and because of that, it seemed to strike a chord in me that was much more reminiscent of the Swords and Sorcery or Swords and Planets genre. Most of my reading has been Leiber, Howard, Smith and Vance of late, so I was not expecting to like this book, even with all the friendly accolades. But I did.

I liked it a LOT. Pick it up if you haven't yet and give it a chance. It's pretty good stuff.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Castles and Crusades (Session 4, Oct 13 09)

Players - PCs
Ed - Roog (1/2 ogre fighter)
Ray - Lassirial (Elf assassin)
Paul - Drizzle Spatchcock (Human MU)
Jeff - Frederick Five Fingers (1/2-ling thief)
Wes - Thabador Fisk (Human Cleric of Odin)

Thyla - (Human Female Paladin)
Elmo - (Human Ranger)
Wonkin Fire Eye - (Wayward man-at-arms)
Portly Tom - (Wayward man-at-arms)

For reasons that I won't go into here, we've started up a game of Castles and Crusades in earnest. Dovetailing off of the previous "pick up" game, we've shuffled a few players around and have done some creative addition / subtraction, but think that we've got the semi-permanent players at the table now. So, on with the game.

We open in the dungeons beneath the Moat House. A burned-out, lair for ne'er-do-wells, bandits and other, more unsavory types, the building is a concern for the local land owners: Rufus and Burne. As such, they've hired a small group of adventurers to take a look into the rumors of a rise in banditry and some strange goings-on in that area.

So far, the group has chased away a hive of bandits that had been utilizing the back tower as a lair. A chest of treasure was an ample reward. Other hazards faced and conquered include: A giant viper, a massive hunting spider and a green slime.

A secret door, discovered in the bandit's chamber, led down to the subterranean depths. Here they found a round room with a pool in the center of it. Where they encountered and defeated the green slime. Within the pool they also found a silver sphere containing a black obsidian totem of a tadpole.

After this, one character was "replaced" with another: The paladin Thyla takes her leave and is replaced with the elven assassin Lassarial. Ever onward the characters adventure, trying to figure out what foul presence (if any indeed) is behind the odd occurrences at the moat house.

On the way out of the room, the group is ambushed by a wandering / patrolling group of grey goblins. The gobs have their faces painted with ash and lard to appear more cadaverous. Their rusted, notched cleaver-like weapons are splotched with gobbets of what appears to be flesh of some sort...A disease waiting to happen. Opening with arrows from the dark, the goblins score a hit on Frederick, but it's only a graze and doesn't affect the halfling much.

They draw their cleavers, and charge. The fight progresses and wounds are taken by Roog and Fisk. Fisk also performs a heroic act by saving Drizzle's hide when he bravely blocks a nasty swipe (6 hp) with his shield. The shield shatters but the maneuver saves Drizzle. (+50 XP for a brave act)

Fisk, sees the nasty condition of the weapons and applies first aid as soon as the battle is over. The possibility of a prisoner is ended quickly when Lassarial shoots a wounded goblin in the back, killing him instantly. The party doesn't seem too upset by this.

Looting the goblin bodies doesn't reveal much of value, other than some strange bone fetishes, a couple of short bows and 30 arrows in total.

Roughly an hour or so of mapping and creeping results in discovering a work room of sorts. Woodworking tools festoon the walls and ancient benches of the room. Seeing an opportunity, Fisk surveys the instruments and pockets a few that he thinks might be worth keeping. (A mallet, an awl or two, a hand drill, and a few other implements rounded out his collection.)

Leaving through the opposite door, the party maps out and finds a long corridor with two other corridors of odd and disproportionate size joining from the side. At this point, the thief Frederick, decides that he'd rather go the other direction, for it looks more "interesting". (This from a thief w/ a 4 wisdom btw.) The party is not prejudiced either way, so they follow him.

A couple more hours and they end up back in that large room full of frogs and shallow, standing water. Stairs, leading up, are discovered at the end of the hall as well.

Drizzle wants to find out what this tadpole thing does. He has a feeling that it might control frogs, so he removes it from its silver sphere and holds it in his hand. The smooth surface somehow feels a little slimy, but not enough to bother him.

He advances into the room. Freddy wants nothing to do with this and retreats back down the hallway, while Lassarial heads around the other way, to enter the room from the opposite side. Roog smells mushrooms somewhere and advances into the room as well, following his keen nose.

When Drizzle comes to the center of the room, holding his staff in one hand and the stone idol in the other, a large shape detaches itself from the shadows beyond one of the pillars. An enormous frog leaps into the light.

But the first glance reveals that this is no ordinary frog. This monstrosity is covered in mold and fungus, its bulging eyes are a filmy white and its jaw hangs open at an odd angle.

Brother Fisk seeing the beast for what it was, yells out that it's an undead abonimation and for the party to steer clear. He yanks out his silver holy symbol and calls upon the mighty powers of Odin to rid the group of this foul creature. Sure enough (roll of 24 total), the thing swings about with a series of hops and heads back into the far corner. But not before Drizzle gets off a magic missile. Which sizzled the hide where it strikes, but otherwise doesn't seem to affect the frog in the least.

As soon as the undead frog was back in its corner, Lassarial could see it. He squeezed a shot off from his hand-crossbow, it thunked home, but w/ nary an affect. Except of course for causing the frog to leap forth in defense and lash out with a horrendous, dripping green tongue. 10 feet of stinking filth whipped through the air only to strike the stone of the column next to Lassarial.

The stone sizzled and smoked, indicating that this "tongue" was much more than it appeared. It wasn't long until Freddy, hearing the shouts, came scurrying back into the room. At the same time that Roog descended upon the monster, his mace swinging.

A few more rounds and the frog has hit nothing, while the party has scored numerous strikes upon it. Eventually, the beast succumbs and falls to the floor, truly dead. Freddy's thrown dagger providing the necessary damage to put it down for good.

Fisk and Drizzle proceed to the far corner and find a pile of slime, bones and sloughed skin...but sticking out is the corner of something smooth and black. Fisk doesn't want to reach in and asks for Drizzles "mage hand", assuming that the wizard would intuit the request. Wrong.

Drizzle reaches into the muck with his own hand and comes out grasping the statue. But, covering his hand are numerous little yellow-white maggot like creatures. One of which quickly darts through his skin and proceeds to head up his arm.

The mage screams and grasps his arm trying to impede the progress of the sickening worm. Fisk, seeing the whole thing, yells, pulls his knife and proceeds to carve the thing from Drizzle's skin. This whole debacle nearly causes the mage to faint dead away. But he holds on and ends up thanking the quick thinking priest.

Once clean, the statue appears to be some type of crouching creature. With a strange octopoid head, and frog feet and hands, the thing is possibly a religious artifact. But to which god? Fisk can not discern this...they take the statue nonetheless.

At the top of the stairs, on their way out, (It's been many many hours spent in the dark, slowly exploring and mapping the subterranean ways.) they hear voices beyond the black door, where the bandits had been holed-up previously. Freddy and Lassarial listen at the door and hear two men arguing about whether or not their comrade is dead*. It ends with an affirmative and they loot the body.

*Freddy set up a trap at the bolt-hole in the bandits lair, and it apparently worked.

After much noise, each declares that they can't find the treasure, (it's been moved and hidden again) and that neither wants to be the one to tell the "boss". With that they both high-tail it out the way they came in.

Lassarial allows for a few moments to pass then slowly opens the door. Seeing no occupants, he and Freddy set up another trap and free the chest from its current hiding spot. With that, the party gathers up Jah, the pony, straps the chest into place and makes their way back towards Hommlet. The late afternoon sun slowly falling towards the horizon and a slight breeze their only companions.

This is where we ended it. I'll have more to report as we continue our game.

It's really wonderful having some good role players at the table. People who seem to use their heads, common sense, and just enjoy a good exploration-based game. I sort of lost my "game face" just prior to the session due to an errant conversation. But next time I'll be fully energized, prepared and ready to rumble. I promise.

Until then, adieu.

*Image: Property of Tony DiTerlizzi (visit his site and pay tribute!)