Monday, October 16, 2017

First Dragon Rampant Army Complete!

Yesterday, I hit a huge milestone in my career as a miniature painter and wargamer. 

I completed an army.  For the first time ever, (not counting things like a Frostgrave warband) I have finished building and painting an army for a game.  I put the last dabs of paint and flock on the last units I needed to do for my 24 point Undead army for Dragon Rampant, "the Skeletal Legions of Nesuahyrrah." I'm also only two units away from finishing my second army, the Men of Anhur, so I'll be able to start putting on some demo games soon enough - I've got some interest locally already.

I kept my list fairly simple:

  • Lich (Heavy Missiles, Undead - No Feelings, Summoner, Single Model Unit, Army Leader) - 7
  • Skeleton Warriors (Light Foot, Undead - No Feelings) - 3
  • Skeleton Warriors (Light Foot, Undead - No Feelings) - 3
  • Skeleton Berserkers (Bellicose Foot, Undead - No Feelings) - 4
  • Wraiths (Heavy Riders, Undead - No Feelings, Venomous, Reduced Model Unit) - 7
The idea being to keep at least some of the skeletons off the table at the start of game and summoning them as reinforcements mid-battle, and using the Wraiths as real heavy hitters to hammer an opponent's more powerful units.  I've got some ideas of where I'd like to go in expanding this army for larger games as well.  

Everyone together.

The Lich, calling up reinforcements.

Two units of Light Foot.

Skeleton Berserkers.

I'm not stopping at two armies, however.  Because I've really fallen in love with the Dragon Rampant rules, I'm planning on building multiple armies for variety in demo games as well as for use in larger, multi-player games eventually.  Because I'm a lunatic like that.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Iron Principalities, Session 12

Dramatis Personae:
Kholark Sunderstone, Half-Orc Barbarian 4
Dormammu, Half-Elf Warlock 4
Zerin of Birdsall, Half-Elf Paladin 4
Jager, Human Fighter 4 (Replacing Zerin)
Mivahl Shimov, Human Fighter 4
Mara, Human Cleric 3
Flora, Half-Elf Cleric 3 (Replacing Mara)
Cor, Rock Gnome Wizard 3
Lasair Lightfoot, Wood Elf Rogue 3
Sylvus Treeshroud, Wood Elf Druid 4

Just after dawn, a posse of five men rode into town, most of them rough-hewn, hard-bitten men with steel loose in their scabbards; the fifth a poncey git with waxed mustache and van dyke, ostrich-feathered hat and slashed silk doublet.  The ponce, identifying himself as Sir Bosch, demanding the surrender of "the criminal gnome," producing a wanted poster from the town of Craghold, declaring a bounty on Cor for "arson, manslaughter, attempted regicide and insurance fraud." It was explained that the Broken Blade, the inn Cor bought for a song in Craghold, burned down right after he left town, which looked very suspicious.  The fact that Cor had invited Lord Vesper to stay at the inn shortly before this had the Lord, already paranoid, very suspicious of the gnome's intentions.

The party refused to turn over Cor, and when Sir Bosch was killed for refusing to stand down, three of his four henchmen just shrugged his shoulders and left.  The fourth, it's revealed, is Jager, who had formerly fought under Mivahl's command up north and whose life Mivahl had saved once, years before. 

like this, but with beefy arms and stork legs.
With Zerin and Mara staying behind to administer to the town of New Dawn, Jager was invited to join the party as they went to Craghold to demand answers.  The three day trip was uneventful, save for picking up Flora, another cleric of Mishakal, and an encounter with a strange, man-sized bird-monster, with shining steel feathers and beak and a pair of big, muscular human arms, ending in weapons instead of hands.  The bird was no match for the party, and they quickly dispatched it, with Lasair's arrow to the brain ending the abomination's life.  They took a number of feathers - primarily long flight feathers from the wings, but Cor took several tail feathers as well - for future study. 

Arriving in Craghold, Jager and Kholark negotiated with Borut, the town bailiff, for the bounty, arguing that the wanted poster just listed bringing the gnome to Borut for the reward.  Borut assented, and handed a bag containing 500 golden suns to Kholark. 

When Cor demanded the opportunity to prove his innocence, it was announced that he would face Trial by Drama; a team of prosecuting actors would put on a play depicting their version of Cor's actions, and then the party would put on a play in Cor's defense.  Innocence would be decided by audience reaction.  Taking a full day to prepare, the party's various spellcasters prepared various illusion spells to make their case more compelling while debating which details to include and whether or not to try and pin the arson on the inn's former owner, Tetra, as well as how much of what they knew about their being a demon in the basement of the Broken Blade to mention. 

Cor was deeply offended by the prosecution's performance; from casting a human achondroplasic dwarf to play him to suggesting that the arson was performed as an outlet for the gnome's deep-seated sexual frustration, Cor seethed through the entire performance.  [DM's Note: I actually got down on my knees and performed a bit of the "Winter of our Discontent" soliloquy from Shakespeare's Richard III to play the prosecution's portrayal of Cor.  ACTING!]

Putting on their rebuttal, the party told a tale of fighting a demon in the basement of the Broken Blade, believing it slain, and it returning to torch the inn out of spite after they left before pursuing them, and that they finally laid the demon to permanent rest in New Dawn.  With an illusion spell cast over Kholark to portray the demon and narration by Dormammu, the party swung the crowd in their favor, eking out a ruling of innocent for Cor. 

Recognizing that Lord Vesper was not happy with this and was itching to hang someone for some crime, the party offers their services as witch-hunters; since someone must have summoned the demon the Craghold.  Given that rumors swirl throughout the principalities that Lord Vesper's wife consorts with demons, and fearing that a cult-cell similar to the one they rooted out in New Dawn may be at play in Craghold, the party wants to get to the bottom of this and managed to bargain Vesper into agreeing to pay 500 gold for the delivery of a witch. 

Friday, October 6, 2017

The Iron Principalities, Session 11

Dramatis Personae:
Kholark Sunderstone, Half-Orc Barbarian 4
Dormammu, Half-Elf Warlock 3
Zerin of Birdsall, Half-Elf Paladin 4
Mivahl Shimov, Human Fighter 4
Mara, Human Cleric 3
Cor, Rock Gnome Wizard 3
Lasair Lightfoot, Wood Elf Rogue 3
Sylvus Treeshroud, Wood Elf Druid 3

Following the memorial service led by Mara, a number of the villagers at the town formerly known as Rodrigosburgh, but now rechristened "New Dawn," approached Mara asking for more information about the worship of Mishakal, and to ask her to take over the Cathedral at New Dawn, making it a site holy to Mishakal.  The townsfolk were very upset to hear that the cathedral had been promised to the Cult of Bormo, arguing that a religion of drinking, wrestling and fornicating was not appropriate to raise their children in.  The adventurers ultimately agreed with the town's reasoning, and it was decided to consecrate the cathedral to Mishakal, adding a shrine to Bormo to the Triumphant Hare, the inn now owned by Cor. 

The party decided to investigate the dwarven catacombs under the Golden Castle again, in search of the hidden treasure chamber the demon had held over them as a bribe.  They found the chamber, behind a trick wall.  Opening the doorway, they found a short hallway leading to another door; Mivahl, entering, stepped on a pressure plate.  Glass plates, two inches thick, slammed down, sealing half the party into the short hallway and half the party outside. A nozzle opened in the ceiling, long-still gears whirring to life. 

Unwilling to wait to be dosed with poison gas, Cor cast Shatter, blasting the glass plates to splinters and destroying the reservoir in the ceiling above - resulting in the long-dormant Black Pudding contained in the ceiling above pouring down on them all at once, rather than being sprayed at them in a pressurized stream. 

The vast blob of inky blackness poured down, spilling over Mivahl as he tried to block its descent with his shield.  The party attacked the slithering shadow pooling around their ankles, with the Pudding splitting twice, forming three attacking slimes - once divided by Zerin's sword, and once by a lightning spell cast by Cor.  The Puddings flailed out with pseudopods but failed again and again to connect, while the party pounded on them with blunt weapons and non-electrical spells.  Ultimately, the Pudding was beaten into so much lifeless slime. 

Beyond the second door, the party found wealth beyond anything the demon had hinted at - 470 platinum pieces, 500 electrum pieces, 1,000 gold pieces, 3,900 silver pieces, and 9,500 copper pieces, as well as a Cloak of Elvenkind and a Brooch of Shielding.  Lasair took the Cloak and one of the casters [I want to say Dormammu, but I honestly forget at the moment as there was a lot of debate over who should have it] took the Brooch.  Ultimately, the party took only a small amount of money for themselves, deciding to devote the remainder of the cash to making improvements to the town of New Dawn. 

The next day, Anoroc, last priest of Bormo, arrived in New Dawn, riding a wagon drawn by his trusty bear companion Jaroslav, carrying the ceremonial items of Bormoism, including his ceremonial head-gear -- the dwarven equivalent of a baseball cap with cup-holders on the side.  He also had the Book of Bormo, a scrap-book of weightlifting advice, protein shake recipes, brewing tips and softcore dwarven pornography.  It's not every holy book that has a centerfold, but the Book of Bormo does - an image of a chainmail bikini-clad dwarf woman bench-pressing a zebra. 

Once Anoroc was situated, the party took stock of their situation and debated their next move.  They decided to return to Craghold to see how Cor's first inn was doing, then zig-zag up the Maw to Molekh to treat with the Great Khan about hanging on to the lance Empyreal Vengeance for the time being, and then try their luck again with the undead knights of the Groaning Keep.  From there they will head west, where Mivahl wants to challenge Duke Beldor to a joust - the Duke having a long-standing offer to name the first challenger to unseat him as his heir.  Once that is addressed, they will head south-west to investigate claims of an ancient road of enormous stone blocks, all carved like dragon scales, half-sunk in the slimy waters of the Dismal Swamp. 

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Iron Principalities, Session 10

This was one of the most emotionally intense sessions I've ever run, of any RPG ever.  Players reported afterwards that their hands were shaking during play.

Dramatis Personae:
Kholark Sunderstone, Half-Orc Barbarian 3
Dormammu, Half-Elf Warlock 3
Zerin of Birdsall, Half-Elf Paladin 3
Mivahl Shimov, Human Fighter 3
Mara, Human Cleric 3
Cor, Rock Gnome Wizard 3
Lasair Lightfoot, Wood Elf Rogue 3 (out for the session)
Sylvus Treeshroud, Wood Elf Druid 3

Picking up where we left off last week, Kholark and Hobgoblin Recruit #1 (honestly, I forget the names I gave them) pretty handily wiped the floor with Magro, the commander of the guard at the Golden Castle, and Generic Castle Guard #14, though Magro left some serious bruises on Kholark.

As Zerin explained to Count Rodrigo the flaws in his delusional belief that he's the deposed heir to
Glabrezu by VegasMike
the Empire and the failures of his military stratagem, a spearblade erupted from Rodrigo's chest, and then the unthinkable - Rodrigo's body, spurting gore, twisted inside-out like high-speed footage of a blossoming flower of raw, bloody meat.  Behind him manifested a 12-foot, four-armed demon, the Glabrezu that the party has known was manipulating events at the Golden Castle and the associated village of Rodrigosburgh (which hadn't been named until this session).  In its hands, the enchanted lance known as the Empyreal Vengeance.

The horror of watching Rodrigo's body turn inside out blasted the minds of everyone watching - Kholark, Mivahl, Mara took off running, their psyches savaged.  The two hobgoblin recruits' heads exploded like in SCANNERS, as did a number of the assembled townsfolk.  A fairly large number.

Scraping the remnants of Rodrigo off the lance, the demon boomed, "He was of no further use to me. The question now is, will you vagabonds serve my purposes? You have eliminated my agents here, and awoken this unwitting dupe to my manipulations. Shall I simply kill you? You were kind enough to desecrate the dwarven catacombs and allow me entrance to find the Vengeance for myself. Let none say that Ygo-Ythorr, Puppetmaster of the Seventh Tier, is without gratitude. This, I offer to you; your lives and freedom, plus the accumulated wealth of the dead dwarves below. An entire hidden room of buried treasure. All this will I give to thee, if you will just bend the knee to Ygo-Ythorr."

A swipe of the demon's claw dropped Zerin to the ground, bleeding and unconscious, while a Power Word: Stun put Dormammu out of commission.  Cor and Sylvus swiftly dropped to their knees.

Transferring the lance to the crook of an elbow, Ygo-Ythorr stalked forward.  "I know you're in there," he smirked at Dormammu, "Will you serve?"

Moving on, the demon picked Cor up off the ground, licking a taloned fingertip and carving a symbol into the gnome's forehead, marking him.  Mivahl took this opportunity to grab the lance from the demon and stab the fiend in the side, but was seized and crushed in one of Ygo-Ythorr's claws, dropping the lance as he lost consciousness. Kholark grabbed the fallen lance and drove the point into the demon's wounded flank as Mara began firing off healing spells.  Conscious and recovered, Zerin charged in, laying a Divine Smite across the demon's back.  Shrugging off the stun, Dormammu began throwing Eldritch Blasts, while Cor, back on the ground, began casting Magic Missiles into the fiend's chest.

Ygo-Ythorr lashed out again and again with his giant claws, sending Mivahl and Zerin flying, and punched Cor in the face with one of its slender, clawed hands.  Surrounded, however, the flurry of attacks being directed at him (especially once Kholark flew into a frenzy) began to wear the demon down, and finally, Kholark drove the lance deep into the fiend's side - a shockwave shook the entire battlefield, and the demon's already lifeless body was thrown back 70 feet, impacting a cottage and blasting it to matchsticks. Cor took off running with unprecedented gnomish speed, undoing his belt as he ran; he managed to clamber on top of Ygo-Ythorr's rapidly-sublimating corpse and drop a victory deuce on the demon before it completely evaporated. 

In the aftermath of the battle, the party healed up and took stock; 180 townsfolk were dead, plus Count Rodrigo.  Mara was the closest thing the town had to a local priest.  The cathedral had never been consecrated in the first place.

While Kholark rested (he had gained two levels of exhaustion from frenzying), the rest of the party led efforts to bury the dead and comfort the survivors.  Deciding to bring in Anoroc to consecrate the cathedral to Bormo, Dormammu sent Francis to deliver the invitation.  Delighted, Anoroc set out on his way to Rodrigosburgh, despite a heavy thunderstorm rolling into the region.

Zerin took some time with a local carpenter, Tavish, crafting wooden holy symbols representing Bormo, Mara's goddess Mishakal, and his own deity, Fharlanghn.  Zerin inquired about Tavish's religious beliefs, and those of the community.  He finds the local population to be more spiritual than religious, offering prayers to agricultural deities and having some vague inclination towards the Church of Law (which is akin to the Catholic Church in my setting, widespread and the official religion of the large empire to the north)

Two days after the battle, Mara leads the surviving community in prayer, conducting a stirring, nondenominational memorial service to honor those who died.  Afterwards, Kholark stood up, and delivered a crude testimonial to how his worship of Bormo, god of bears, beards, drinking contests and manly wrestling, aided him in defeating the demon.  A few people in the assembled crowd nodded thoughtfully.

Friday, September 22, 2017

The Iron Principalities, Session 9

I think at this point the Iron Principalities game is the longest-running fantasy game I've run in something like five years, is three sessions away from tying for longest campaign I've run, period, in five years.  Whether it will surpass the Call of Cthulhu campaign I ran in college remains to be seen. 

Dramatis Personae:
Kholark Sunderstone, Half-Orc Barbarian 3
Dormammu, Half-Elf Warlock 3
Zerin of Birdsall, Half-Elf Paladin 3
Mivahl Shimov, Human Fighter 3
Mara, Human Cleric 3
Cor, Rock Gnome Wizard 3
Lasair Lightfoot, Wood Elf Rogue 3
Sylvus Treeshroud, Wood Elf Druid 3

Resuming where we left off last week, the party entered a large, circular room and challenged the two animated suits of armor that guarded the only other doorway.  It was a slow, arduous fight for our heroes; blows that would have sundered armor and crushed limbs of a mortal foe seemed to glance off the enchanted suits of ancient dwarven plate that confronted them.  Finally, however, the party finished off the pair, with Zerin striking the killing blow on both of them.  The suits collapsing into pieces, Cor shoved as many pieces as he could into his Handy Haversack, filling it to capacity. 

Unlocking the other door, within they found a gigantic stone sarcophagus, laying on an even larger dais, the walls covered in intricate bas-relief carvings.  Sending Dormammu's imp, Francis P. Mordo, in to scout, Dormammu is able to read the inscriptions on the sarcophagus, identifying it as the final resting place of Magister Eckhardt, the Sword of Justice, Last of his Clan. 

Francis, acting on his own initiative, tried to lift the sarcophagus lid, wrenching his tiny spine in the process.  As the imp groaned, "My back!" one of the dwarven figures in the bas reliefs detached itself from the wall - a lumbering, 10-foot stone dwarf, lurching towards the imp, fists raised menacingly. 

Already tired and drained from fighting the armors, the party found themselves drawn into a fight against this guardian statue - all except Zerin, who stood back, arms crossed over his chest.  "The imp got himself into this, he can get himself out," he declared. 

The fight against the statue was even harder than the fight against the armors - blades and arrows bounced ineffectively off its stony exterior, though the flails wielded by Kholark and Mivahl were a bit more effective.  Eventually, however, they managed to wear the statue down and Sylvus, in wolf form, dealt the killing blow, chomping down and shivering the battered stone to splinters. 

"Untiring guardians" defeated, the party forced open the sarcophagus, expecting to find the magic lance, the Empyreal Vengeance, inside.  Instead, inside a series of successively-smaller, nesting sarcophagi, the party found the remains of Magister Eckhardt, a scroll case emanating magic clenched in his bony hands and a magical amulet around his neck.  The amulet, Lisair was able to determine, was connected to the statue they had just destroyed; the statue would guard the wearer as long as they wore the amulet. 

Inside the scroll case, they found two sheets of seemingly-blank vellum that radiated powerful magic. 

Recognizing that they'd explored only a fraction of the complex but needed to rest, the party returned to the surface, Lisair burgling the jewels and finery of the dwarven mummies they'd passed on their way in on her way out, netting - by her estimation - over 500 GP worth of jewelry.  Cor, examining the gold and platinum filigree and inset gems on the pieces of armor he'd taken, estimated their value at 500,000 GP.  He may be mistaken. 

Spending the night in the castle, in the morning, refreshed and ready to go, they first went to the cathedral, where Mara was able to determine the site had never been properly consecrated, but was not necessarily desecrated into unholy ground.  The acolyte priest tried to run when he saw them, but was swiftly captured and interrogated, revealing his and Father Markus' involvement in a demon cult broken into terrorist-style cells, working on missions across the land to further the overall goals of their unseen masters.  They turn the acolyte over to Count Rodrigo, who orders him placed in stocks, to be hanged tomorrow. 

Questioning Count Rodrigo to determine the depths of his delusional belief that he is the heir to the Empire to the north, Zerin decides to try and break Rodrigo of his delusions; he proposes a mock-duel, between Rodrigo's bellicose drill sergeant Magro and one of his men, and Kholark and one of Mivahl's hobgoblin charges.  If Kholark and the hobgoblin win, Zerin proposes, Count Rodrigo should give up his mad dream of ruling the Empire. 

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Still Painting

Lest anyone thing I've abandoned miniature painting for strictly running RPGs, I have been slowly but steadily puttering away at a pair of demo armies for Osprey's Dragon Rampant - the undead "Legion of Nesuahyrrah" and the stalwart "Men of Sabaton."

The fiction I've got in my head has Sabaton as a frontier province, rough and barely-claimed, the Baron and his soldiers working tirelessly to tame and civilize the region and bring it into the Empire.  They don't have enough men, they don't have the best armor and weapons, but they've dug in their heels and refuse to give an inch.  Most of the figures are Reaper "Anhurians," a pseudo-Norman bunch wearing chainmail shirts and open-face helms with nose-guards.

I've previously shown the Baron and his bodyguards:

Now joining them (just bases left to finish) are a unit of archers (Reaper Anhurian Bowmen) and some heavy cavalry - Wargames Foundry's Norman Knights.

Both of these units were slow-going and a bit of a pain.  I think I must not have cleaned the mold grease off these bowmen well enough, something I'm usually very careful about.  The paint has not wanted to stick to the plastic and took every opportunity to pull away from the material.

As for the riders, both men and horses had a TON of excess metal to be trimmed off, especially between the horses' legs.  My can of spray primer was running low too, so the horses especially ended up with a little bit of a spotty coat - especially in the creases of their manes and tails, primer just didn't end up there.  So I had to go over each figure with black paint by hand afterwards.  One of the riders had lost his hand in transit, and I clipped a plastic hand off a Fireforge knights sprue to replace it.  Throughout the painting process I was constantly finding more little bits of excess metal or mold lines that I had missed at every prior point.  Very frustrating.

I'm not a fan of painting horses in the first place (not sure why, they just irritate me to do) so this might be my last cavalry regiment for a while.  I have two more units to do for this army - a unit of Anhurian Spearmen (with an attached priestess providing some magical support) and a unit of war dogs.

Moving on to the Legion of Nesuahyrrah...

These are the undead legions of the Lich Nesuahyrrah, an ancient undead spellcaster.  I imagine the Lich ruling over a swath of territory that the Men of Sabaton are now trying to exert influence over, and he's not having it.  Calling up the bones of long-dead warriors, Nesuahyrrah strikes and strikes hard to reinforce his sovereignty.

(of course, "Nesuahyrrah" is "Harryhausen" backwards, in tribute to the late, great Ray Harryhausen, who animated so many memorable monsters for the silver screen, not least being the seven skeleton warriors in JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS)

I've previously shown off Nesuahyrrah himself, as well as the unit of Wraiths he commands.

I have finished their bases since this photo was taken!

Joining them now is a unit of Skeleton Berserkers, armed with big two-handed swords and axes.

I have one more unit to paint for this army, at least in its initial 24-point form, and that's a unit of Skeleton Warriors with swords and shields.  I anticipate adding more skeletons to it in the future, either for larger point games or to sub in place of the Wraiths - which make up a full third of the warband, points wise, being classed as Heavy Riders (for hitting power and speed), with the Fly and Cause Fear fantastical rules added on.  This is, understandably, a big investment in a single unit, so there are going to be games where I just want to have an extra 24 skeletons in their place and overwhelm opponents with numbers.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Iron Principalities, Session 8

So this week was interesting - I went in vastly underprepared compared to even the loosey-goosey way I normally run these Iron Principalities games, as I'd been prepping to run three sessions of Call of Cthulhu, back to back to back, this past Saturday at Queen City Conquest in Buffalo.

Dramatis Personae:
Kholark Sunderstone, Half-Orc Barbarian 3
Dormammu, Half-Elf Warlock 3
Zerin of Birdsall, Half-Elf Paladin 3
Mivahl Shimov, Human Fighter 3
Mara, Human Cleric 2
Cor, Rock Gnome Wizard 3
Lasair Lightfoot, Wood Elf Rogue 3
Sylvus Treeshroud, Wood Elf Druid 3

When we last left our heroes, Zerin had his blade to the throat of the apparently-villainous priest Father Markus, while Sylvus had Count Rodrigo held and threatened.  Mivahl quickly sent the guards running with a threatening wave of his flail.

Knocked unconscious, Markus dropped a small red gem he'd palmed - which, when it shattered on the floor, released a towering entity of flame, a fire elemental eight or nine feet tall.  Zerin and Sylvus were on fire before they could react, while Kholark raged and charged the flaming entity and Cor blasted it with a casting of Tasha's Hideous Laughter.

Doubled over in hysterics, the elemental fell to the ground on top of the unconscious Father Markus.  The creature lashed out with fists of flame, igniting the clothing of Kholark as well.  Though it was a hard-won fight, the party eventually won over the creature, with Mivahl delivering the killing blow, his flail extinguishing the elemental like a candle in the wind.

Getting more details from Count Rodrigo (Dormammu cast Suggestion on him), the party learned that Father Markus, and an entity he served whom Count Rodrigo had only ever seen as balefully-glowing eyes in a darkened room, and flattered and toadied their way into Rodrigo's confidence, feeding his ego while encouraging him to take part in sinful rites.  With Father Markus gone and Dormammu's influence over him strengthening, Rodrigo agreed to return the body of the stone giant Petroikodromos to his brother, Lithotomos and pay the agreed upon price for the brothers' labor.

Unfortunately for the party, Rodrigo has no idea where the enchanted lance known as Empyreal Vengeance was, believing it to be no more than a legend.  He did admit, however, that the watchtower he'd claimed as his castle was built over an ancient dwarven ruin which had never, to his knowledge, been investigated.

Lithotomos, however, was able to provide aid, in the form of a small, mole-shaped Earth Elemental.  While incapable of understanding the finer details of the adventurers' questions, Mole was able to find where a trap door leading into the dwarven ruin had been mortared over and helped clear the way to getting it open.

Descending into the ruins, they determined that they dated back to the First Dwarven Empire, some 5,000 years old, but more recent graffiti - in the Common of two centuries back - claimed that a paladin known as Alaric the True buried "the Bloody Spear, Vengeance of the Gods" here, leaving behind "untiring guardians" to protect it.

Forcing open a door, they found themselves in a semi-circular room full of mummified dwarves, which, when they did not immediately animate, the party laid face-down to make it more difficult for them when they did, assumedly, animate on the party's way out of the dungeon.

Exploring further, they discovered a circular hallway with a number of doors leading outward, directing Mole to lead them in the direction of the nearest source of magic it can detect.  It leads them north, where a narrow hallway branched off from the broad, curving structure they'd been following.

Carefully examining the geometric designs on the walls, Dormammu was able to figure out that they formed a very strange map of the complex, a poem written in acrostics, the nouns marking where rooms are and verbs tracing hallways.  He can't read enough of it to determine the subject of the poem.

Going down the narrow hallway, opening the door at the far end revealed a 50-foot diameter circular room, a door at the leftmost point on the curving wall guarded by a pair of suits of ornate armor.  Experimentation quickly revealed that the armor was animated, and reacted to anyone entering the room.  Lasair was almost able to enter the room unchallenged by magically disguising herself as a dwarf in matching armor, wearing a family crest copied off the door the armor is guarding - but unfortunately, one of the suits of armor seemed to see through her disguise.

We ended the session with the party debating if it was even possible to get past the suits of armor without fighting them, and concluding that, if they wanted to get through that door (and presumably, to the lance), combat was inevitable.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Iron Principalities, Session 7

After a week off, we're back with D&D.

Dramatis Personae:
Kholark Sunderstone, Half-Orc Barbarian 3
Dormammu, Half-Elf Warlock 3
Zerin of Birdsall, Half-Elf Paladin 3
Mivahl Shimov, Human Fighter 3
Mara, Human Cleric 2
Cor, Rock Gnome Wizard 3
Lasair Lightfoot, Wood Elf Rogue 3
Sylvus Treeshroud, Wood Elf Druid 3

Arriving at the Golden Castle and its attached village, they discovered it to be misnamed; the "Castle" is a refurbished Imperial watch-tower of a style not built in 50 years, the village is a dirt-poor hamlet of goat-herders, and the town guards are all basically the Squeaky-Voiced Teen from The Simpsons, poorly trained and overwhelmed by their positions.  The only tavern in town, The Triumphant Hare, could offer only cots and blankets in the common room for the night, with it being a toss-up whether the ale or the vegetable broth was more watered down.  Only the Cathedral, built by the stone giants Lithotomos and Petroikodromos, is in any way impressive, though questionable in its own way - the holy symbol worn by the acolyte priest they talk to, and hanging on the building itself, they realize are displayed upside-down.

Undeterred, Cor talks to first the innkeep, Egil, and then his overbearing and shrewish wife, Endora,
about the possibility of partnering with them and investing in the Hare, to help support the anticipated growth the town is hoping to see due to the new cathedral.  While Cor's bargaining is ineffectual, Dormammu turns on the charm and leaves Endora red-faced, flustered and giggling, agreeing to the deal.

Asking around, the party quickly forms a pretty good image of Count Rodrigo - that he's a selfish, vainglorious man, eager to avoid personal danger while claiming the glory of those who don't flinch from it.

Calling on Francis, his imp familiar, Dormammu uses the tiny devil to spy out the Golden Castle, watching Count Rodrigo undress for bed (kinky...) and observing the Count's spiritual advisor, Father Markus, searching through books in the library.  Sylvus, meanwhile, has Wildshaped into a cat and snuck into the castle, being mistaken for one of the castle's rat-catchers, and listened stealthily at a door, hearing two male humans, and an unknown, grating, inhuman voice arguing.  The inhuman voice commands, "I don't care for your excuses, I want that lance! Find the Empyreal Vengeance and find it NOW!"

Father Markus
Francis gets nervous, because the entire second floor of the Castle smells like Demon, and not a wimpy Quasit or simpering Dretch, something big and powerful.

Reconvening, the party assembles and digests this information, coming to the conclusion that Father Markus is the power behind the throne, and wants the lance for some nefarious purpose.

Debating on a course of action, they finally agree to present themselves, in their guise of travelers and cartographers, to the Count, assess him and Father Markus firsthand, and figure out where to go from there.

In the morning, the group cleans up as best they can (Sylvus still looks like a crazed homeless person), and present themselves to the "court" of Count Rodrigo the Black.  The Count is sitting resplendent in a chair that, in the Principalities, counts as a throne, flanked on his right by Father Markus, and attended by four guardsmen.

Count Rodrigo, the Black

As the Count launched into a recounting of how he single-handedly slew the Stone Giant Petroikodromos, complete with wild thrashings of his rapier, they realized their assessment was correct.  And it dawned on Zerin, Mivahl and Sylvus (confirmed by whispered comments between them) that they could easily take down everyone in the room.

"NOW!" yelled Mivahl, raising his hand and summoning his flail to him; Zerin charged Father Markus, grabbing him by the collar with one hand and holding his sword to the old priest's throat, while Sylvus cast Hold Person on Count Rodrigo, transforming into a wolf to ensure that the petty despot didn't move a muscle.  One of the four guards panicked and fled the room, while the other three, spears raised, advanced cautiously on the group.

Meanwhile, Cor, Kholark, Lisair, Mara and Dormammu are just going, "Uh, what just happened?"

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Iron Principalities, Session 6

Dramatis Personae:

Kholark Sunderstone, Half-Orc Barbarian 2
Dormammu, Half-Elf Warlock 2
Zerin of Birdsall, Half-Elf Paladin 2
Mivahl Shimov, Human Fighter 2
Mara, Human Cleric 2
Cor, Rock Gnome Wizard 2
Lasair Lightfoot, Wood Elf Rogue 2
Sylvus Treeshroud, Wood Elf Druid 2

As the Gorgon emerged blinking into the sunlight on the far end of the arena, the adventurers swiftly arranged themselves, spread across the width of the arena to minimize the damage the creature could do.  Cor threw out a minor illusion of a goblin bouncing around in a red cape, hoping to distract and delay the creature.

The Gorgon proved to be grossly outmatched by the adventurers, especially once Dormammu cast “Dissonant Whispers” on it, causing it to run headlong into a wall.  Lasair finished the creature, burying an arrow to the fletching in the bull-like monster’s heart.  

The crowd of hobgoblins in the stands went wild, with Borgai Khan, Great Khan of All the Hobgoblins, declaring that the Gorgon was to be roasted and served to the adventurers at a feast in their honor.  Two enormous casks of ale were then rolled up on either side of the Khan, and with a jeweled mace, he knocked the bungs off both of them, sending sharp, bitter ale cascading into the arena over the adventurers.  

The feast was a wild affair – in addition to the Khan and the adventurers, present were various priests, sorcerers and advisors to the Khan, members of his immediate family, as well as Erdo and the soldiers under his command.  Kholark presented the Khan with a cask of whiskey from the Shrine of Bormo, and then the party really went wild.  The last thing Mivahl remembered before blacking out was Vekra, the hobgoblin warrior woman whose advances he’d previously rejected, suplexing him through a table.  

Standing up, Kholark challenged the Khan to a friendly wrestling match, which the Khan accepted by crushing a pewter goblet between his pecs.  The fight was brief but memorable, with Kholark quickly pinning Borgai Khan for a three-count. Helping the Khan back to his feet, and Borgai seized Kholark’s wrist, raised his arm, and declared Kholark a brother.  

In the morning, Mivahl woke up with two black eyes and a number of bite marks, to the sight of Vekra putting on his championship belt.  “I think I earn this last night, yeah?” she grunted lasciviously.  Nursing a massive hangover, the Khan summoned the adventurers before him with a proposal.

The Golden Castle, nestled amidst the peaks of the Mountains of the Moon, is built atop the crypt wherein is stored the Empyrean Vengeance, an enchanted lance, forged by spirits of violence and bloodshed, the children of a god of war so ancient that its name has been forgotten even to the memories of dragons.  The current ruler of the Golden Castle, Count Rodrigo the Black, is thus the current protector of the lance’s resting place.  If the adventurers will steal the Vengeance for Borgai Khan, they can ask any boon they like from him in return.  

The four-day journey to the Golden Castle is largely uneventful – two horse-sized scorpions fall quickly to the party, with Kholark taking a spearhead-sized stinger to the chest without flinching.  

A few hours from the Golden Castle, the party is accosted by a stone giant that identifies himself as Lithotomos.  Upon ascertaining that the party are not friends of Count Rodrigo, Lithotomos tells his tale of woe; his brother Petroikodromos and himself were hired by Rodrigo to build a massive cathedral, the finest in all the Principalities.  The task was completed, but when payment came due, Rodrigo refused to pay.  When Petroikodromos protested this, he was killed by Rodrigo’s men and hung over the city gates as a warning. 

Lithotomos asks the party if they will help him seek vengeance against Rodrigo for his betrayal of the brothers’ trust and the murder of Petroikodromos.  The party agrees, seeing in Lithotomos their opportunity to steal the Empyrean Vengeance.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Iron Principalities: Session 5

Dramatis Personae:

Kholark Sunderstone, Half-Orc Barbarian 2
Dormammu, Half-Elf Warlock 2 (NPC'd for this session)
Zerin of Birdsall, Half-Elf Paladin 2
Mivahl Shimov, Human Fighter 2
Mara, Human Cleric 2
Cor, Rock Gnome Wizard 2
Lasair Lightfoot, Wood Elf Rogue 2
Sylvus Treeshroud, Wood Elf Druid 2

Yes, we've added an eighth player to the group, as Zerin's player's girlfriend decided to play.  This is now the largest campaign group I've run for in a decade, but it's going to be (I hope) easier to run D&D for eight players than it was to try and run Call of Cthulhu for eight players.

Setting out from Craghold to retrace their path into the Maw, the party stopped off at Anoroc's cabin, with Kholark announcing his conversion to Bormoism.  The party purchased two more kegs of Anoroc's fiery moonshine, one for Cor's new inn and one as a gift for Borgai, Great Khan of the Hobgoblins.

Moving on, as they were about to make camp for the night, they heard the trumpeting of a furious elephant and a woman scream for help.  Racing to the scene, they found an overturned wagon being systematically crushed by an enraged bull elephant, his hide peppered with crossbow bolts; surrounding the scene were the crushed and mangled bodies of three men.  Underneath the wagon, they could see a woman crouching in terror.

Assessing the situation, Sylvus approached the elephant, hands high and wide, speaking softly, trying to draw the pachyderm's attention and calm it; internally, he was ruing not preparing "Speak with Animals" that morning.  He managed to sooth the great beast, casting a healing spell to ease the pain as he removed the bolts.

While he was doing this, Kholark, Mivahl and Zerin flipped the wagon over, recognizing that it was now mostly scrap wood.  The woman beneath, however, was unharmed, identifying herself as Mara, a seeker of knowledge.  Seeing that her initial plans were scrapped with the wagon and her hired guides, one of whom had thought it smart to try and shoot the elephant for its tusks, she agreed to join the party.

Their first day of travel through the Maw was uneventful, until the party was set upon by a trio of giant vultures towards nightfall, though the party made short work of these.

Their second day proved more eventful, as a Purple Worm surfaced beneath them - A few members
of the party felt a rumbling beneath the ground and alerted the rest, allowing them to dive for higher/more solid ground as the Worm erupted, its mouth slamming into the rear of the wagon.  Zerin slipped and fell back into the wagon precisely as the Worm was lifting it sixty feet in the air.  Managing to dodge falling into the Worm's mouth, he pulled his dagger from its sheath and dug it into the worm's chitin, using that to slow his fall as he slid down the worm's back.

Having destroyed the wagon and eaten one of the oxen that had been tethered to it (the other exploded when the harness snapped and it plunged 60 feet to its death), the Worm departed.

Moving carefully, Lasair sifted through the wreckage of the wagon, managing to salvage enough rations to last the group for six days and the keg for Borgai Khan; Cor was holding on to his keg in his Handy Haversack.

Fortunately, the party was soon met by Erdo the Hobgoblin and eight other hobgoblins, all mounted.  Surveying the situation, Erdo commented that the great worms rarely venture out of the deeper desert, but that rarely is not never.  The party are encouraged to climb onto the backs of the worgs, as their camp is nearby.

Arriving in camp, the party is treated to dinner - scorpion-meat chili, a slice of hard, black bread and a mug of bitter ale, and afterwards, Vekra, one of the female hobgoblins of the group, leans towards Mivahl:

"I like a man who can eat," she grunts appreciatively, "If the night is cold for you, my bedroll is easy to find."

The party also, over dinner, ran afoul of Kargan, Erdo's second in command.  Citing the well-known deceitfulness of the "soft races," Kargan accuses the party of being assassins sent to kill the Great Khan, and calls for their immediate execution.  Erdo silences Kargan, asking if he wants to challenge Erdo for command.  Kargan demurs, losing significant face in the process.  Erdo explains to Zerin that part of Kargan's duties include killing him and taking his position if he ever becomes demonstrably weak.

After two days' uneventful riding (with Vekra giving Mivahl an almost constant dagger-look for turning down her advances), the party arrives at Molekh, capital city of the hobgoblins, entering through the "Gate of Kur, the Head-Taker," a famous ancestor of Erdo's.  Amidst staring guards and civilians, the party are led to a large tenement-style building, where they will be quartered for the night, with slaves assigned to cook and tend to their needs.  Erdo explains that while the party has been granted permission to stand before the Khan, they still need to earn the privilege of doing so, and for that, in the morning they are to fight a monster in the Arena of Molekh.

Before Erdo leaves, Zerin asks about any family crests the "House of Kur" might have, and is told it's three narrow triangles in a row.

Zerin sends a slave out for red fabric and green ink, intent on honoring the House of Kur, and Erdo specifically, for sponsoring their presence in Molekh.  He crafts a set of surcoats bearing a modified version of the House of Kur's crest, meant to show the party's subservience to the House of Kur.

In the morning, the party is brought to the Arena - a 100-foot by 50-foot area, sunken 20 feet into the ground, surrounded by stadium seating.  At one end, a massive hobgoblin sits in a private box under silken tents, surrounded by wives and guardsmen.  The stands are starting to fill with spectators, and the front row all the way around is filled with hobgoblin archers, ready to respond should anything escape from the Arena, or any competitors try anything "funny."

Seated within a waiting area for contestants, the party is offered refreshments - water, ale, battle mushrooms - while they wait their turn.  Everyone but Cor and Kholark, curious, takes a battle mushroom (though I think Mara just took one to study later for possible medicinal properties; she can correct me if I'm wrong though).  Finally, the drums begin to pound and the gate separating them from the sands of the Arena rises.

The party steps out, blinking in the sunlight.  The stands are packed to capacity.  A second gate, on the far side of the arena, below the Khan's seat, begins to rise.  From within emerges an enormous, bull-like creature, half again as large as the largest auroch any of the party have ever seen.  Its skin ripples with dense, iron plates, its horns are two huge sweeping arcs of jagged steel.  From its nostrils pour gouts of yellow-green gas.

The party curses in trepidation.  They're about to fight a Gorgon.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Iron Principalities: Session 4

This session saw a little bit of travel, and a whole lot of wheeling, dealing, and drinking.

 Dramatis Personae:

Kholark Sunderstone, Half-Orc Barbarian 2
Dormammu, Half-Elf Warlock 2 (played for this session by guest player Cerenity, as Dormammu's usual player could not make it)
Zerin of Birdsall, Half-Elf Paladin 2
Mivahl Shimov, Human Fighter 2
Cor, Rock Gnome Wizard 2
Lasair Lightfoot, Wood Elf Rogue 2
Sylvus Treeshroud, Wood Elf Druid 2

Setting out from Anoroc's cabin, the party had a half-day's trek through the southern peaks of the Dragonspine Mountains to reach Craghold.  After a brief but ultimately peaceful encounter with a nesting pair of Dragon-Hawks, the party arrived in Craghold - like most of the smaller settlements in the Principalities, Craghold consisted of a labyrinth of buildings clustered tightly around the central castle, and surrounded by a thick defensive wall.

Entering through the single gatehouse, Mivahl was surprised to see, mixed among the regular militia guardsmen, members of the Red Brotherhood - a famed and feared mercenary company, known to turn to piracy and brigandage during times of peace rather than stoop so low as to perform honest labor.  Their presence here as guards was truly startling.

Asking around, they readily found directions to the Whore's Arse tavern, and the party split - Kholark, Dormammu, Zerin and Mivahl went to the Whore's Arse, while Cor, Lasair and Sylvus looked for a place they could rent rooms for the night.

They found the Broken Blade Inn, a place that had recently gained a reputation as having a "bad atmosphere" and thus business was low.  The owner, Tetra, was eager to sell, but not so eager to sell at the prices Cor was offering - five gold to own an entire inn was a bit insulting, even for a woman as desperate to leave as her! She explained that the inn was haunted, and the elves detected a faint, acidic odor emanating from the basement.  Investigating, they found a narrow passageway, barely more than a crack, just wide enough to crawl through, hidden behind a wine butt.  Exploring, they discovered an ancient, brick-built room, encrusted with nitre and cobwebs, apparently abandoned for centuries.  An age-blacked, bronze-bound door on the far side of the room seemed to beckon, and Sylvus opened it, revealing another room beyond.

"We've found a dungeon," Sylvus said.  Wracking his memories, Cor identified the acidic odor - it's the smell of the Abyss.  A demon had been conjured here, possibly recently.  Closing the door and getting out of the basement, Cor sent his hawk familiar to summon the rest of the party.

Meanwhile, at the Whore's Arse... we're switching to a bullet-pointed list because a lot happened here.

  • Dormammu buys a hit of black lotus powder off a cloaked dealer, tucking it between his cheek and gum and letting the low-grade euphoria and hallucinations wash over him.  He gets to chatting up a woman he believes to be Lord Vesper's wife, eventually joining her in a curtained-off alcove.  
  • Zerin, Mivahl and Kholark watch a game of "Sting" in progress in the back corner - a completely nude dwarf is spread over a table with a large, green scorpion (a breed known as "Screamers" because their venom is so potent that it "shuts down your ability to do anything except scream.") scuttling over him.  Bets are placed on where he'll be stung and if he'll call for it to be removed before it decides to sting.  
  • Once the dwarf is stung and rolled off the table, Zerin uses his Lay on Hands ability to relieve the dwarf's pain, and then buys a round of drinks for the four of them - intrigued by what he sees on the blackboard menu, he pays out the necessary gold for each of them to have a shot of "Father Jack's Ultimate Pissup." The bartender retrieves a leaded glass bottle with a pair of tongs and carefully measures out four shots of syrupy purple-red liquid.
  • The Ultimate Pissup doesn't actually taste like anything that the party can tell; this may be due to it killing tastebuds the second it touches the inside of their mouths.  Similar in content to a blend of codeine cough syrup and 190-proof Everclear from our world, Kholark and Mivahl experience tunnel vision and think they hear dead relatives calling to them as they swallow their shots; the dwarf immediately begins projectile vomiting so hard it's coming out his nose, while Zerin loses all bowel control and instantly soils his armor.  
  • Mivahl strips down and goes in for a round of Sting, with Zerin and Kholark betting that he'll get stung on the hand - as happens when Mivahl slaps the scorpion to ensure their victory.  The group is toasted for their ingenuity, but encouraged not to try that kind of thing again.  
  • Feeling pretty good, Kholark stands up and challenges anyone in the bar to a greased wrestling match, finding a challenger in local champion Jagga, a big, shaven-headed bruiser with an eyepatch and a Fu Manchu mustache.  Though Jagga fights dirty (including kicking Kholark in the balls), Kholark not only beats him unconscious and drop-kicks him into a table, but manages to put a dent in the bar itself with Jagga's forehead.  
  • The party soon draws the attention of Borut, the castle bailiff and man they were looking to meet.  Borut is a half-orc, more than a foot taller than Kholark, and dressed in fur and leather.  They quickly befriend him, especially once Mivahl nearly dies competing against him in a "doubles match" of Sting.  Borut declares them "Alright" and encourages them to come by the castle in the morning and he'll introduce them to Lord Vesper if they're looking for work.  
With Dormammu in a narcotic haze and Mivahl half-dead from scorpion venom, the group emerges into the night in time for Cor's hawk to land on Zerin's shoulder.  

At the Broken Blade, Tetra has had enough of Cor's sarcastic comments about her competency and intelligence, and spits on the floor, seizing the pouch of gold coins out of his hand and storming away.  With the remainder of the group arriving and two members out of commission, the group decides that investigating the dungeon under the tavern would be a task best left for another day.

The night passes uneventfully and in the morning, after breakfast and a conversation with a traveling peddler named Oxnard Gorguts (especially regarding his experiments with a substance he calls "dragonpowder," and how it's the reason his hands are bandaged and his eyebrows singed off), the group sets off for the castle.

Lord Vesper is initially unimpressed with the statuette of Gilgamesh von Hohenzollern brought as tribute, but changes his mind when Dormammu and Zerin spin an epic tale of bypassing traps and a terrifying giant spider to retrieve the statuette.  When Zerin proposes an expedition to more accurately map the Maw, and gain military intelligence regarding the hobgoblin encampments therein, Vesper agrees to grant them the use of a wagon and 20 days' iron rations for the expedition, expecting a new map and valuable data in return.  

Realizing that if he wants the Broken Blade to make money for him in his absence he will need a staff, Cor visits another local tavern, the Running Boar, and offers one of the serving girls there money in exchange for her services.  Misunderstanding his offer and believing him to be a pimp, she refuses, but the other serving girl agrees.  "Great.  Go to the Broken Blade Inn and run the place until I get back.  Bye." Cor explains over his shoulder as he walks away.  

With business taken care of in Craghold, the party sets off to make their date with Borgai the Great, Khan of Khans and ruler of all the Hobgoblins.  

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Iron Principalities: Session 3

Last night we picked up right where session 2 ended in our Iron Principalities game, with the players bracing themselves for an oncoming swarm of the cursed Knights of the Maimed King, an order of fallen paladins exterminated for their crimes three hundred years ago, bound to the site of their demise and the sinister half-life of undeath.

 Dramatis Personae:

Kholark Sunderstone, Half-Orc Barbarian 1
Dormammu, Half-Elf Warlock 1
Zerin of Birdsall, Half-Elf Paladin 1
Mivahl Shimov, Human Fighter 1
Cor, Rock Gnome Wizard 1 (NPC'd for this session)
Lasair Lightfoot, Wood Elf Rogue 1
Sylvus Treeshroud, Wood Elf Druid 1

As the six Knights closed ranks on the adventurers' position, the battle swung wildly; Kholark, Mivahl and Zerin all came within a hairsbreadth of death under the hacking swords and gnarled claws of the ravenous undead, which seemed almost impossible to fell.  Finally, Cor dropped a Thunderwave spell, knocking the Knights back and allowing the party to make a fighting retreat.  The Knights of the Maimed King did not pursue past the walls of the Groaning Keep.

The next day as they traveled, hugging the foothills of the Ironspine Mountains at the edge of the volcanic desert known as the Maw, they spotted a lone rider, about three hundred meters away in the desert, pacing them; Lisair was able to determine that the rider was most likely a hobgoblin, mounted on a Worg, and watching them through a spyglass.

Zerin and Dormammu rode out to meet the rider, open hands held aloft to signify peace and parlay.  The rider stopped and removed his helmet, revealing the scarred, red-skinned face of a hobgoblin warrior.  "You are not a merchant caravan," he observed gruffly.

Zerin explained to the hobgoblin that they were cartographers, hired to map the hazards of the Maw, and that while the local rulers didn't like or trust each other, the group had conned all three of them into paying for the expedition.  At this, the hobgoblin burst out laughing.

"You make the princes fight...with gold? Yes? Fight with gold instead of steel.  Very funny! Wait until I tell Great Khan, princes fight with gold!"

After a little bit of further discussion, they learn the hobgoblin's name is Erdo, and he warns them to be careful - the giant scorpions of the Maw had an explosive breeding season last year, and now roam
the waste in unusually high numbers.  He offers to bring them before the Great Khan himself to repeat their tale of making the princes "fight with gold," if they will return to this spot in six days.  Dormammu readily agrees.  Calculating travel, if they drop off the naming ceremony gift at Craghold Keep and turn right around and head back, they can arrive just in time for their meeting with Borgai the Great, Khan of Khans, ruler of all the Hobgoblins.

Zerin gives Erdo a gold piece in friendship, and Erdo gives him a Zuleck - a rectangular iron coin used by the hobgoblins - in return.  They salute, and ride off in opposite directions.

The next day, mid-morning, the group are ambushed by a trio of Ogres; hoping to repeat their diplomatic approach from the day before, this plan swiftly fell apart as Mivahl and one of the horses were impaled on heavy, ogrish javelins.  Dormammu sent one of the ogres running with a casting of Discordant Whispers, as the party laid into the other two.  The ogres barely knew what hit them before they were spilling their life's blood on the ground.  Looting the bodies, they found a large copper-plated belt, set with bits of quartz and fool's gold, apparently of ogrish manufacture (like a big, cheap, badly made Wrestlemania belt), which Mivahl promptly claimed.

As they exited the Maw the next day (so it is now the 20th of Sowmont) and entered the grasslands south of the desert, towards evening they noticed the plume of smoke from a cookfire; approaching, they found a ramshackle cabin, light pouring from its windows, next to an odd shrine; a crude stone carving of a huge, beefy human male with a giant beard, standing next to a bear that was likewise bearded.

The door of the cabin opened, and a shirtless dwarf (his shirtlessness not immediately apparent due to the density of his chest and back hair) emerged, bellowing welcomes and blessings "in the name of Bormo."

Bormo, it was soon learned, was a deified hero of the region from generations past, now largely forgotten, considered the patron deity of bears, beards, manly wrestling and drinking contests.  Intrigued, the party entered the cabin, welcomed by the dwarf, who identified himself as "Anoroc, last priest of Bormo." Here they also met Jaroslav, Anoroc's bear companion - a black bear dressed in an embroidered leather vest and a chainmail hood.

Once the mugs of Anoroc's homebrew whiskey were passed around, Mivahl got into a drinking contest with Jaroslav, which he promptly lost, earning him a hearty thump of approval on the chest from Anoroc.  When asked about Lord Vesper and Craghold Keep, Anoroc responded...emphatically, spitting on the floor with a bellow of "That, to Vesper!" followed by squatting down and farting on the spit puddle, followed by "And that, too, to Vesper!"

Anoroc explained that all the drinks in Craghold were watered down.  Worse, Vesper was a demon cultist, and a very "unmanly" one at that, "if he worshiped Bormo like a real man, he wouldn't need to summon a demon to ah, how you say, put babies in his wife. Bormo make sure you have many fat babies." Anoroc had heard rumors that Vesper, his wife, and various hangers-on at court participated in monthly wine-soaked orgies of sex and black magic, and could confirm that all dogs and wolves went berserk in the vicinity of Craghold.

When asked if he had any idea how they might infiltrate the Keep to look for evidence, Anoroc considered and then said, "Craghold Keep attached to small town.  Find tavern called 'Whore's Arse' - is always open.  Castle bailiff, half-orc named Borut, drink there.  You drink with him, he take you to Vesper.  But seriously, fuck that guy. Fuck Vesper."

[DM's Note: Borgai, Bormo, Borut.  I really need to make sure I don't do that again.]

That night, Mivahl converted to Bormoism, and in the morning, Anoroc saw them off with a huge breakfast of bacon and whiskey, a small keg of whiskey, and a powerful blessing of Bormo: "May your beards stay full and righteous; may your pecs never sag; may your back hair never thin; may you always hold your drink; all this, may Bormo provide."

Saturday, July 22, 2017

"Welcome Back to the Land of the Living...Now Grab a Shovel and Start Digging!"

I got a lot more done on the commander for my undead retinue for Dragon Rampant than I'd anticipated today.  To wit, I finished him, basing and all.  The Dread Lich Nesuahyrrah is now ready to lead legions upon legions of animated skeletons into battle.

As a reminder, this is Bones #77280, Lich, with a tombstone and emergent skeleton that came packaged together as Dark Heavens Legend # 02043, meaning its been in the Reaper catalog for quite a long time!

Notes on the colors, because I know I'm going to need them again with the rest of this army...

  • Cloth: basecoat black, heavy drybrush "Midnight Blue," lighter drybrush "Twilight Blue."
  • Bone: basecoat black, drybrush with Stained Ivory/Yellowed Bone/Creamy Ivory triad.  
  • Armor: basecoat black, basecoat 50/50 mix Leather Brown/Ancient Bronze, wash Nuln Oil, highlight Ancient Bronze, highlight True Silver, wash Nuln Oil
  • Skin: basecoat black, basecoat Ghoul Skin, highlight Moldy Skin
  • Stone: basecoat black, drybrush Stormy Gray/Cloudy Gray/Misty Gray
  • Staff: Basecoat Dark Flesh, drybrush Dark Highlights
  • Leather: Lonestar Leather
  • Belt Buckle: Antique Gold
  • Base: Earth Brown
  • Eyes: Phoenix Red, Fire Orange

While I can't fault the results, I do kind of wish I'd picked a simpler recipe for the armor, because now I think I need to continue that recipe through the rest of the army for consistency's sake.  It does look really good.

Friday, July 21, 2017

On the Painting Bench

In case anybody thought I'd forgotten about figure painting in the heady rush of running a Dungeons & Dragons campaign, fear not.  My work bench is actually currently overflowing with the undead.  In addition to the "Men of the West" retinue I'm building for Dragon Rampant, I'm also building an undead retinue for demo games, which will make use of the wraiths I painted back in May.  As you may recall I got a stack of Reaper Bones skeletons back at Christmas time as part of the secret santa exchange; those are going to form the core, with each type of skeleton (swordsmen, spearmen, archers, two-handed weapons) being expanded out to create units of 12.

The other day at Just Games I picked up a half-dozen skeleton swordsmen, leaving me three short of a full unit, and I special ordered through them enough packs of "Skeleton Guardian w/ 2H Axe" and "Skeleton Guardian w/ 2H Sword" to complete a unit of Skeleton Berserkers as well as a Lich to lead them into battle, and an old set of Reaper set dressing, an "Undead Rising" pack, to flesh out the Lich's 50mm base into a little diorama and represent his "Summoner" ability.

So far I've washed and based the Skeleton Berserkers (a unit of Bellicose Foot with the undead "No Feelings" special rule), as well as straightened some of their postures and weapons with boiling water - though I notice some of the paper-thin zweihanders are starting to return to their original bent position.  I also washed the Lich, but didn't glue him down to the base; I did clean and prep the tombstone and emergent skeleton and, once I decided on positioning, glued them to a 50mm square base off a Fireforge sprue, the Lich's position traced on in Sharpie.

The Berserkers I'm saving for the August painting challenge at the Dragon Rampant Facebook group, but I started on the Lich tonight while the sunlight was still coming in the window.  I ran out of black while basecoating him; this has never happened before.  I got the tombstone and the rubble on the base painted, the Lich's robes are done and I made some good progress on the armor, which I'm hoping will end up looking like badly tarnished silver when all is said and done.  I'll post more pics tomorrow, possibly with more done on him; his staff and skin still need to be done, and the armor finished, and then the ring of skulls and the rising skeleton on the base.  I think it's going to look really good.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Iron Principalities, Session 2

This past Tuesday we had our second session, and our first full session of play, of the new Dungeons & Dragons campaign at Just Games.  I think the "newsletter" idea of the last post worked out really well, and I'm very excited to see the enthusiasm and investment of the players - Sylvus' player had a "spellbook" printed containing all the spells he has access too, while Dormammu's player was kind enough to bring a cheat sheet of "what you can do during your turn" for everyone.

Dramatis Personae:

 Kholark Sunderstone, Half-Orc Barbarian 1
Dormammu, Half-Elf Warlock 1
Zerin of Birdsall, Half-Elf Paladin 1
Mival Shimov, Human Fighter 1
Cor, Rock Gnome Wizard 1
Lasair Lightfood, Wood Elf Rogue 1
Sylvus Treeshroud, Wood Elf Druid 1

Lasair found the hiding place - a hollow under an upturned oak tree - of the kobolds that had been caught stealing cheese, and taking pity, turned the pork bones, nuts and a few other scraps she'd gathered into a serviceable stew for them, earning their trust and gaining a little bit more information about the town of Holger.  Granted, they weren't able to offer much beyond a kobold's perspective of the town - the best trash heaps to dig through and how to avoid being seen by the local constabulary.

The group spent an entire day - checking the calendar, it is the 16th of Sowmont, a month analogous to April in Earth's temperate zone of the northern hemisphere - exploring Uncle Oswedge's old house.  They found a number of interesting things, most notably a map of the region, with a number of castles and villages drawn on, with only the immediate vicinity of the Five-Towns labeled.  Also, a small gold statuette of the famed gnomish accordion-composer Gilgamesh von Hohenzollern on a trapped platform; when they carefully triggered the trap, a chute opened in the ceiling, dropping the desiccated remains of a long-dead giant wolf spider into the room.  It seems the trap had been neglected for some time.

Consulting the map and the various bits of news and local gossip they'd picked up at the Whole Hog the night before, they started planning a course of adventure.  If they took the Cursed Pass to the Maw, it would take them past the Groaning Keep, where three hundred years earlier, an entire order of corrupt knights were tortured to death for their crimes.  Skirting the edge of the Maw, they might be able to collect some goblin hands to trade in to Baron Vitellius for the bounty he'd announced.  They could drop off a naming ceremony present for Lord Vesper's newborn son (they decided to give him the statuette of Gilgamesh von Hohenzollern) at Craghold Keep and then circle around the southern end of the Ironspine Mountains to visit the town of Jonquil, curious about the retired war-wizard who had beaten a demon at chess and forced it to compile his memoirs.  From Jonquil it's a short jaunt to Baron Vitellius' castle to collect on the goblinoid bounty, and that will bring them halfway to the Dismal Swamp to investigate rumors of an impossibly ancient stone road through the swamp, the stones carved to resemble dragon scales.

Buying a wagon and enough food to last them to Jonquil, they bid Holger farewell for the time being, tasking the kobolds with keeping an eye on the house for them.

Travel down the Cursed Pass proved easy, and in late afternoon on their first day of travel (the 17th of Sowmont), they came within sight of the Groaning Keep, a foreboding edifice of black stone squatting toad-like over the Pass, crumbling under the weight of time and neglect.  They quickly noticed the complete absence of birdsong in the area; even the buzzing of insects was absent.  Around the Keep itself, nothing grew save a breed of greasy, gray-green vine that clung and tugged at the ruined masonry.  Cor was able to identify these as Assassin Vines, rumored to grow only in the soil of mass graves.  Approaching warily, Dormammu threw an experimental eldritch blast at the nearest growth, and was immediately attacked by lashing, thorny vines that nearly crushed the life out of him.  Pulling back, the party attempted to blast the vines with fire bolts and eldritch blasts, Mival and Kholark wading into the fray with their flails.  Enraged, Kholark brought the head of his flail down on the woody bole of the growth, sending splinters flying as the vines went limp.  Cor collected some samples of the vines' glowing green sap and the group moved through the newly-revealed gap in the wall to enter the courtyard of the Keep.

They soon heard the scraping of something against stone, and the clink of metal.  Emerging from a mostly-intact side building was a humanoid figure, swathed in the charred and moldering robes of a priest, face hidden in the depths of the hood but skeletal hands exposed.  The mortal remains of one of the long-dead cursed knights of the Groaning Keep, the undead thing lunged, hurling itself against Zerin's shield, swinging a rusted longsword with savage fury.  Reaching out with a bony claw, it grabbed Zerin's face, burning him with necrotic energy.  Pushing the creature back, Mival and Kholark moved to surround it, with Sylvus darting in and out to strike at it with his quarterstaff, enchanted with a Shillelagh spell, while Dormammu, Cor and Lisair held back, peppering the thing with eldritch blasts, fire bolts, magic missiles and arrows.  Finally, roaring with the red rage of battle, Mival brought his flail down on the back of the thing's skull, shattering it, with the entire skeletal horror swiftly collapsing into dust and flakes of ancient, blackened rust.

Unfortunately, the sound of battle drew the attention of other undead knights, which began to emerge from shadowy corners and gaping doorways, converging on the adventurers' position.  Kholark, Mival and Zerin swiftly formed up into a shield wall, keeping themselves between the casters and the shambling undead as they slowly backed towards the gap they'd come through.  Cor and Dormammu kept up a steady stream of offensive cantrips, trying to whittle the undead down as they came.  And the sun was beginning to set.

I love being able to end a session on a cliffhanger like that!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

News from the Iron Principalities

Instead of having the players in my weekly D&D game roll every session for new rumors/plot hooks, or just going the route of having a "job board" hanging in the local tavern, I thought I'd take a page from the Hill Cantons' book and put out a "newsletter" for the region the players are in a few days before each session, to give the players a chance to learn about the setting in bite-sized chunks and have a few different things they can consider pursuing.  Here is the first installment (future installments will go up a bit closer to the midpoint in the week between sessions):

Lord Vesper, Master of Craghold Keep, has with great fanfare announced the birth of a son and heir to his throne.  A naming ceremony will be held in the chapel of Craghold on the 23rd of this month.  With great solemnity Lord Vesper has proclaimed that any wishing to bring gifts are welcome to do so, with gifts of gold, ivory or precious stones being especially welcome.  Any who wish to pledge fealty to Lord Vesper during this blessed time are invited to do so, and will be received graciously.  Lord Vesper is quoted as saying, “My need for vassals – especially those with strong arms and a willingness to club someone’s brains out – is always highest immediately after a child is born.  So many wags and gossips claiming my children were sired by devils, so few stout oak branches to crack across their heads!”

Long-time residents of the Five-Towns will recall the series of fires that mysteriously struck the houses of those who made such claims when Lord Vesper’s daughter Julia was born, as well as Lord Vesper’s repeat attempts to enforce his claim to the Five-Towns over that of Baron Vitellius, and the subsequent repeated rebukes the Master of Craghold suffered. 

The ground shook throughout the Ironspine Mountains for three minutes earlier this week. Residents of the Five-Towns are divided as to whether this earthquake was a sign of divine wrath (and if so, which deity requires placating), caused by giant-kind, or an otherwise little-understood natural phenomenon.  Some fear that an earthquake such as this may have disastrous effect on the ruins of the Groaning Keep near Holger.

Fearful that such tremors could result in increased goblinoid activity, Baron Vitellius has announced a new bounty on goblinoids: one silver piece for a goblin, five for a hobgoblin or orc, one gold for a bugbear, five gold for an ogre, ten for a troll or ettin, and fifty for a hill giant.  Proof of extermination in the form of severed right hands to be presented at the Baron's castle for payment.  

The Archbishop of the Church of the Unconquered Sun in Sabaton has announced the dates for the annual Festival of Brilliance as being from Moonsday, the 1st of Sunmont, through Godsday the 6th of the same month.  These are, of course, the same dates that the Festival of Brilliance has fallen on for the past century, but it was determined that it couldn’t hurt to provide residents with a reminder.  Sunites are encouraged to make sure their brass skull-caps are freshly polished and to make travel arrangements early.  Unbelievers are discouraged from partaking in any of the traditional lemon pies until an act of penitence for their disbelief is demonstrated to the local clergy.

Vencel Voros, Imperial War-Wizard (retired), now a resident of Jonquil, has announced with great satisfaction his victory over the demon Prixior Vune in a long-running game of chess.  Having been defeated, the demon Vune must now fulfill the task of compiling and editing the War-Wizard’s diaries, covering more than forty years’ worth of skirmishes and campaigns against the fire-magi of the Crimson Caliphate, into a cohesive and readable two-volume memoir.  “He just left his king wide open during this morning’s session,” Voros has stated, “It’s like he wanted to lose.”