Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Magic Item of the Week: The Most Excellent Jade Amulet of Usefulness

  Originally from distant empires far across the Vasty Sea the Most Excellent Jade Amulet of Usefulness was found by the powerful mage Lehru on the body of Obake Raiju, Warlord of the Ogre Magi, in the Onogoro Islands. Lehru used the amulet for a number of years before gifting it to a favored henchman, the thief Dexter. After his own retirement Desxter gave the amulet to Lord Fandor in return for a yeomanry northeast of Wyvern Keep. The amulet was confiscated from Lord Fandor (along with all his wealth and goods) by King Amric when he was found guilty of cowardice. It became a part of the 'outer treasury', or those items owned by the king that were routinely used by his servants. In the time of King Aelfric, son of King Amric, the amulet was stolen. Its location is still unknown.
  The amulet is an oval disc of blue jade about 1" wide and 1.5" long. One end is pierced and threaded with a red cord made of braided silk.The silk cord has a a small tassel of golden thread and a bronze slide; it can easily be worn as a necklace or snugly around the wrist. The amulet itself is engraved with exotic symbols [divinations will easily discover the meaning: 'useful tool']. The entire amulet makes all saving throws as the most resistant type of material.

  Game Information: The Amulet is enchanted with a version of the wu-jen spell Tool. To activate the amulet the wearer must touch it while muttering (in any language).
  "Now where did I put that [item]?"
  At that moment the item will appear within convenient reach of the wearer of the amulet.
  The items summoned can be any mundane tool or equipment, such as saws, hammers, shovels, frying pans, etc. The equipment can be as small as a pin or sewing needle up to the size of a 45 gallon cauldron (about 2 1/2' across and 300 lbs) or a two-wheeled, single-seat pony cart. While the tool will have any parts needed to function (a pot will have a lid; the cart will have full harness, etc.) only one 'item' will appear and you may be lacking the items needed for the task at hand (a hammer with no nails, for example). While weapons can be summoned (bows will have no arrows!) they are mundane in all ways except their origin.
  The summoned item lasts until the next sunrise or sunset (whichever is more distant) or until a different item is summoned. The amulet may only be activated 4 times a day: once between Dawn and Noon; once between Noon and Sunset; once between Sunset and Midnight; and once between Midnight and Dawn.

Monday, January 12, 2015

DM's Play Report from Blackstone I: Assault on Tolmar

  The War against the Redcaps Continues!

The Campaign
  almost 7 years old. AD&D 2e Skills and Powers.

The Players and Characters
  Je.: Stardust, 13th level Thief. Armed with a pair of +3 Daggers of Returning and a sneaky disposition. Party scout.
    - Deacon Samarr,  6th level cleric henchman. Rescued from a Hill Giant slave pit, he is loyal to Stardust and her friends. Focused on healing and abjurations.
    - Sir Raleigh the True, 4th level fighter henchman. Gained from a Deck of Many Things, he is perfectly loyal. A halberd specialist and armed with a +7 halberd!

Ja.: Mournglow, 11th level mage. A true generalist and the party's planner. The list of NPCs who owe him favors needs to be printed in 8 point font. Double-sided.
    - Whitestar, his Arcane Servant familiar.

A.: Doomsman the Destroyer, 12th level Fighter. A barbarian and grandmaster with the two-hander who is skilled in a number of melee combat styles. One of the deadliest men on the planet. His magical scabbard carries both Gatekeeper, the sword of that seals the planes, and Magekiller, which is just what it says on the tin. Lord of the North, Guardian of the Pass, and party leader. He thirsts for combat.

S.: Ember, 11th level Fire Elementalist mage. Wields a flaming silver short sword of shapechanger slaying. A true master of fire magic he is the hot-head of the group.
    -Flint, his Fire Spirit familiar.
    -Redfire, 5th level Fire Elementalist henchman. He has died three times, each from a giant's boulder.

N.: Darkwalk, 8th/9th Cleric/Magic-user. Also a skilled fighter, he is the voice of caution. He carries an Talisman of Ultimate Good that keeps reappearing in his backpack each time he tries to give it to the Pope.
    -Suregaze, his Elven Dragonling familiar.
    -Starwing, a 3rd/3rd/3rd fighter/cleric/magic-user henchman. Leader of the henchman, she has a calm demeanor and a knack for leadership.

The Background
  The party has been fighting the same humanoid force for over a decade of game time. This group, called the Redcaps*, consists of various allied goblins, orcs, and giants and have a number of human allies, notably the Cult of the Slaughterer (evil war priests), the Cult of the Rot Lord (plague priests), and the Cult of the Ghoul God (priests of the undead).  The Redcaps had been allied with the Hill Giant chieftain, the Frost Giant Jarl, the Fire Giant King, and the Grand Duke of the Western Cloud Giants. In addition to their various armies the Redcaps had two special groups of warriors that dealt with 'special problems', the Pack and the Band (sometimes called the Small Pack). The leader of the Redcaps, called the Horned One**, had ruled the group with an iron fist for a century.
  Many years ago when 2nd-3rd level the party wiped out a small Redcap outpost on the Black Ridge near Black Pass. The party went on the fight a number of Redcap forces over the years until they destroyed the Band and learned of the alliance with the Giant Kings. The party then spent over a year systematically raiding and destroying the Steading of the Hill Giant Chief, the Glacial Rift, and the Hall [that's how I inserted the Giants into my campaign]. They went on to face the Pack and the Grand Duke of the Western Cloud Giants destroying them all in an epic battle atop a thunderhead.
  The party used the proceeds of their adventures and favors owed them by others to build a sprawling fortress complex on - the Black Ridge near the Black Pass, commanding the only pass connecting the Dells (a collection of small baronies) with the Lands of the Shadow, a monster-haunted region skirting the evil emanating from the doomed capitol of the fallen Emerald Empire; a region ruled by the Redcaps. Skullfang Castle ( an inside joke) is Doomsman's fortress and contains Darkwalk's cathedral as well as the towers of Mournglow  and Ember. Stardust has a very well hidden underground base for her followers nearby.

  A recent raid on the Redcaps is detailed in this post.

  Doomsman is determined that the threat of the Redcaps be eliminated so he can focus on building up his new realm. The party spent a great deal of time (both real and in-game) scouting and researching the Redcaps.
 The Redcaps had always had a presence int he ruins of the Emerald Empire port city named Tolmar, a 150 miles or so west of Black Pass. The party knew that the leaders of the Cults had temples there, that a cabal of Necromancers had a tower there, and they learned that the Horned One was moving there, too. Careful scouting revealed that the various evil temples and the tower of dark magic were all on an old city square, that the Horned One was residing on a fortified island on a river that passed through the city, and that a force of hobgoblins and salves were repairing the walls. The northern part of the city was on a higher elevation and a large tower there held some strange flying beasts that flew riders over the city on patrol during the day. The lower, southern half of the city was patrolled by undead at night. While the humanoid troops in the city were elite they were relatively few in number leaving most of the city empty.

 The party decided that they would use hippogriffs to fly near, then slip into the city and cause havoc with hit and run raids hiding in the ruins if possible in between attacks.

The Adventure
  The party was successful in sneaking into the city, largely due to the elven cloaks and boots they received as rewards from the battle they had won for the elves. The entered close to what they call the Tower of the Flying Beasts at the very northern tip of the city. The 12 story tower had been turned into a pen for 6 huge flying reptiles none of the party. The interior base of the tower was surrounded by a small hobgoblin war camp, complete with spiked ditch, rampart, wooden palisade, and secure gate. Although small, this camp held many elite hobgoblins in a small area.
  Theri leader was a human in plate armor and the dark purple robes of a Death Cultist carrying a black staff with a cobra head. Helmetless, he wore a silver circlet which Mournglow recognized as a device that allows it s wearer to control undead at range. The cultist went into the tower and soon after Whitestar reported that an invisible imp was perched atop the tower. The party hashed out a quick plan and struck.
  Stardust invisibly scaled the tower using her Bracelet of Escalade as Ember dropped a Wall of Fire the length of the camp, trapping and quickly killing all but a scant handful of the hobgoblins. Stardust slaughtered the imp virtually instantly, crippling the cultist, who joined the imp in death a round later. Stardust rejoined the party in moments and they scarpered for cover. They soon saw another of the lizards on patrol, this time with Creepyhead on it! The party was able to elude pursuit and find a secure hiding place, however. The night was filled with patrols and close calls, but they made it through, mainly because (as they alter learned) the defenders assumed they had fled outside the city.
  The party examined a book that the cultist had been reading and found that a fair amount of it was in a code The rest showed a sewer network under the northern half of the city. That night they also saw a ghost ship sail into the harbor!
  The next day the party set out early to scout more of the city. They very soon found a pack of ghouls slumbering in a basement with another death cultist sleeping in the middle of the pack! Darkwalk used the power of God to destroy the ghouls and Doomsman slew the cultist before he fully awoke. The party circled back toward the Tower of Flying Beasts to attack it again. Close to the tower the party was ambushed with Stardust narrowly being assassinated by a poisoned crossbow bolt! A quick skirmish dealt with the ambushers, who turned out to be wererat thieves using the sewers to move around the northern part of the city.
  Back at the Tower they observed Creepyhead land his flying mount and enter the tower. Hobgoblins were supervising human and goblin slaves burying the dead and repairing the burned camp. A human in ornate plate armor and wearing the symbol of either the Head of the Slaughter Cult or Champion of the Slaughter God was chatting with the human death cultist leading the repairs. After a moment the slaughter cultist flew away(!) and the death cultist went back to leading the repairs.
  Ember dumped a boosted Torrential Fireball on the caged flying reptiles, killing them as well as their handlers. Doomsman and friends charged the cultist and hobgoblins. Doomsman was his usual lethal self when - a ghostly black hand appeared and touched him causing him great pain. Creepyhead was up to his old tricks! Ember dumped a Fireball into the tower and Mournglow used a Lightning Bolt on the tower, as well, while Darkwalk dispelled the hand. The party fled but soon encountered - the last flying reptile and its rider! A volley of spells went off and that beast also died, as did its rider.
  The party fled and took shelter and we broke for the night.

Notes and Impressions
  Creepyhead is still a lot of fun to use on the party.
  The party is properly worried about the Champion/Head of the Slaughter Cult.
  Their guerrilla tactics have served them well so far.
  I am sure that the play reports from the players will emphasize different details.

* I got the name from the old tales from Scotland of particularly evil goblins; I originally added the Redcaps (goblins, hobgoblins, and bugbears in a a 'super tribe'), the Pack, and the Band to my 1e campaign in 1988.
**I just liked the name and got the idea from a sculpture of Lucifer. I added the Horned One to my 1e campaign in 1989.
  Imagine my shock when a friend gave me a Castles and Crusades module that had Redcaps led by the Horned one!

New Item Monday: The Keshi Knife

  One of the key elements of my 1e campaign are three closely-related groups of human barbarians called the Kesh. The Horse Kesh are plains-dwelling horsemen, herders, and nomads; the Dog Kesh are forest-dwelling hunters; the Hawk Kesh are hill and mountain dwelling hunters. The Horse Kesh prefer small, swift horses, light lances, javelins, and short composite bows. The Dog Kesh also use the short composite bow but pair it with the bastard sword and hunt with packs of dogs, not from horseback; the Hawk Kesh use long composite bows and broadswords and use trained hawks to help them hunt.
  But all three groups share the weapon that has become their symbol, the Keshi knife.

  The Keshi knife resembles a small, slim short sword or a large stiletto with a wide cross guard and a spiked pommel. A piercing weapon, it is also balanced for throwing. Many Kesh warriors melee with a Keshi knife in their off hand using it to parry or thrust as needed.Hawk and Dog Kesh frequently carry 2 Keshi knives, one of which is typically thrown as they close with an enemy. Horse Kesh carry up to 6 Keshi knives on their saddles, also for throwing at close quarters.
  Because of its weight the Keshi knife is a bit less accurate than the smaller dagger when thrown.

Keshi Knife: Encumbrance (1e style): 20 gp wt., Length: ~18", Space Required: 1', Speed Factor: 3
    Damage: 1d4+1/1d4+1, Fire Rate: 1, Ranges: 10', 20' (-3 to hit), 30' (-7 to hit)

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Play Report: Our First 5e Game

  One of "my" presents for Christmas was all three 5e core books. I say "my" because my sons read them first and they are, really, a family gift.
  My oldest son volunteered to run a series of games and sons 2 through 4 joined me in making characters. The only restrictions? No sorcerers or warlocks.

The Players and Characters
  Me: Alton the Unlucky, halfling rogue with the charlatan background. Rapier, daggers, shortbow. Leather armor.
  A huckster and charlatan, Alton gave himself the nickname 'unlucky' and complains often about how much money he loses at cards. Of course, he wins often, he just uses sleight of hand to pocket his winnings to make it look like he loses his roll each time. He has a 20 Dex and put his expertise into investigation and thieves' tools.

  Son #2: Finquisst the Scared, half-elf mage with urchin background. Quarterstaff.
  Raised in an elven setting where he was shunned for his mixed blood, Finquisst is a skillful mage, decent scholar, and an emotional wreck. He has a thin, querulous voice, a timid manner, and a tendency to apologize for everything. He doesn't like his nickname but answers to it so as not to offend anyone.

  Son #3: Morgan Freedwarf, dwarf fighter with the hermit background. Great axe, longbow. Scale mail.
  The son of a famous military leader and a scholar Morgan spent many years alone in a remote holt obsessively studying the lore, legends, and history of the Axe of the Dwarvish Lords. One of his corespondents in lore was the sage who convinced him to leave his retreat for this mission. Morgan has a deep, rich voice that calms listeners. He also has a 19 strength and enough bloodlust for any three normal dwarves.

  Son #4: Larry, human ranger with the peasant hero background. Long sword, short bow. Leather armor.
  A very happy, cheerful man, Larry loves nature, animals, cities, farmers, merchants, kittens, and sing alongs. He is very hopeful, encouraging, and is a good and decent friend. All that being said, he hates evil, humanoids, scoundrels, and anyone who would hurt nature, farmers, merchants, cities, etc.

Set-up and Play
   The group was brought together by a local sage who hired us to recover the notes of a long-vanished scholar who 'missing' hermitage he had finally located after years of research. We were promised either 50 g.p. reward/fee (plus whatever we looted that was NOT a particular set of research notes) or (in the case of Morgan) notes on the Axe of the Dwarvish Lords. We were given a map to the suspected location (Alton promptly copied it that very night). We purchased mounts and left early the next day.

  After several days or relatively uneventful travel, the last few of which were beyond the borders of civilization (where the ruins of past empires were sometimes seen) we came to the location. It resembled a wide, low hill and passers-by would never give it a second look. But with the map pointing the way we soon found the door in the side of the hill and the small chimney jutting from the hill nearby.
  The door itself looked untouched for long decades, although the puzzle lock was intact. And smoke was coming from the chimney!
  I was unable to bypass the puzzle lock and determined that each failed effort to solve it would trigger some trap. Rather than risk that the ranger scouted the perimeter of the hill. Inside a dense copse the ranger found two small (4.5'-5') tunnels going into the hill but he also heard a loud buzzing. He fled toward the party. Seeing him running in the open we prepared for trouble.
  The 2 giants wasps chasing him were a bit of trouble; one stung Larry, reducing him to half hits, but we dealt with them soon. After checking the entire perimeter and confirming the two tunnels were the only other ways in we marched into the rightmost burrow.
  After 30 or so feet we heard a raucous celebration from ahead. I crept forward and found a large chamber, about 20' by 30', with 5 tunnels leading from it, including the one we were in and what was obviously the other burrow. In the middle were 4 large kobolds (well, large for kobolds) playing a game for coppers. There were females and young staring on. The kobolds were all cheering and groaning as the game was played. It was very lively and loud.

  Our opening salvo of arrows and fire bolt stunned the unsuspecting kobolds. It also killed 2 of them, grievously wounded one, and set a bundle of sleeping furs on fire (Finquisst missed). As Larry and Morgan charged the large kobolds I drew my rapier to protect Finquisst as he cast more spells. Larry and Morgan were mowing down the warriors, several of the young fled down the interior tunnels, and 2 females hustled to grab slings. Two of the young grabbed daggers and advanced to help fight Larry and Morgan.
  Larry and Morgan kept slaughtering their foes, Finquisst missed again, and one of the females hit Finquisst with a sling bullet. I charged the two females, killing them in 2 rounds, as Larry and Morgan mopped up the other combatants.
  We heard a commotion from one of the tunnels so we prepared a defensive formation near the exit tunnel and waited. before too long two giant weasels came rushing at use closely followed by the obvious chief and a female dressed rather oddly. I was in the rear firing arrows into weasels as they charged; Finquisst was with me using his cantrips. The weasels injured both Larry and Morgan; Morgan used his Second Wind to keep going. The female went down the first round, the other three by the third, mainly because of lucky rolls and me getting a backstab.

  After the battle was over, everything was quiet. The rest of the party stayed in the entrance chamber gathering loot and preparing for attack as I scouted.
  The first tunnel was in the direction the chief had come from. Before too long the tunnel pierced a rock wall and beyond was the bedroom of the scholar's home! The kobolds had been using it as the chief's room. Beyond it was what looked like a previous guest room that had been turned into giant weasel pens. There was also another room with a silver-inlaid pentagram on the floor, untouched, and another door which had been seriously barred from this side, obviously by the kobolds.  I looted what I could, avoiding the pentagram. Listening at the barred door I heard very faint scuttling sounds.
  The next tunnel led to what was obviously a sleeping area for the young and then breached another tunnel from the scholar's home. Again, the door to the rest of the hill was heavily barred. I killed to kobolds in the sleeping area.
  The last tunnel led to the scholar's pantry, then his kitchen, where I killed two more kobolds and captured a third. I also found another heavily barred door.

  Now that the entire complex up to the barred doors  had been scouted and cleared I returned and the party took a short rest. We then went to the kitchen, prepared ourselves, and Morgan kicked open the barred door.
  The 3 large giant spiders, each the size of a human, immediately charged us. After a tough fight we killed them, but Larry was knocked below 0 h.p. We stabilized him quickly and he soon made a save. I scouted the corridor and found that it had 3 more doors - two were obviously the other barred doors, the third was untouched for long ages. We retreated to the kitchen where Larry was soon at 1 h.p. We barred the doors, set watch, and took a long rest.

  Awaking refreshed we went to the third door and entered. Inside was an old, very old, alchemical lab. Most things had evaporated or decayed over time, but a few stoppered flasks were intact. I spotted something odd on a table and, creeped out by a pile of leather tubes on a table, shot it with my bow.
  The grick, which had seemingly once been pickled, attacked. Weakened by being preserved, we slew it quickly. One door from the lab led to a storeroom full of things like powdered iron and chalk dust. The other led to-
  A library! While the vastmahority of books had been destroyed by water, rot, time, and bookworms, the notes and such we had been sent for had survived on a table next to the body of the long-dead scholar. We collected it, as well as the 2-3 least-damaged books, and left for home.

  Me from playing a halfling rogue.
  - This is the first time I have ever willingly taken a party into an adventure without a cleric - and we were fine.
  - The fact that backstab works on enemies engaged with your allies is a big deal.
  - the ability of halflings to move through spaces occupied by larger creatures means halfling rogues have a lot more chances to backstab people in melee.

  My kids in the order they spoke to me.
  - From Son #3: it is more fun to play than to read.
  - From Son #4: it was enjoyable.
  - From Son #2: Good, but not as fun as 2e.
  - From Son #1: Solid and the rules meet their goals. Also, in [his] opinion the Basic Rules don't fairly reflect the full rules. In particular, the basic rules made it look a lot easier on the players than it is.

  We had a good time and will keep playing through 5th level to test things out.

  Everyone made 2nd level, BTW.