Day on the Road

We’ve headed out for a celebration today – and that meant an afternoon on the road among roadworks and the usual Friday afternoon traffic shenanigans. We would have been off sooner, but the cub decided that he would rather play in the local park with his friends than come straight home and jump in a car. I can’t say I entirely blame him – he’s very nervous about meeting a lot of people in my family for the first time.

Still, we kept busy with the perennial favourite of ‘I Spy’ – with no more than the usual assortment of swear words, and with a game where we made up words from the letters in the registration of vehicles ahead of us. The latter game got quite tricky as we got into a traffic jam and the seemingly impossible task for people of knowing how to merge lanes.

All is well and good though – we’ve travelled and arrived, and are settled in our rooms. Tomorrow will bring jollity and probably some last-minute shopping as the cub has had a growth spurt.

And just as an end of day wind down, here’s a set of tokens and portrait for a charging minotaur done in Heroforge (of course):

Heroforge – Opposites

Just been playing around with some of the newer models available in Heroforge and thought I’d do a couple of contrasting pictures – and when it comes to mounts for heroes there’s no greater contrast than between a Nightmare and a Unicorn. The former in fantasy games is usually depicted as a horse from the infernal realms, with flames instead of mane and tail. Unicorns are usually depicted as visions of serenity, pale and calm.

They’re interesting models – I really hope that some more poses become available, but I’m also aware that these are also designed to be printable so there are limitations on size. I shall no doubt have great fun trying some odd and counter-intuitive colour schemes in due course – like swapping the schemes on these two models. It’s also fun to see what they look like with previously generated models mounted on them…

Map – Explorer’s Camp

I’m, as ever, playing around in Dungeon Alchemy and trying new things from the new update. It’s a good way to also get inspiration for encounter spaces so that’s an added bonus. This evening’s quick map depicts a campsite in some ruins on the edge of a lake. At the bottom of the lake is a flooded mineshaft, and a hazy low fog hangs over the opening to that pit. The tent is large and of good quality – a covered wagon is parked up nearby, and assorted torches and barrels stand alongside pots, pans, waterskins, and other signs of recent use. It is night time and the campfire isn’t lit. Is the owner inside the tent? Or have the nearby will o the wisps witnessed something come out of the lake?

I enjoy environmental storytelling, so there’s all sorts of bits and pieces I’ve been able to place like a bear trap and a raft tied by the shore. As usual I’ve uploaded Explorers for Roll20 export, or you can just right click and download the map and size accordingly. It should be a 32×32 map if you are manually sizing it. If you use it, let me know what adventures it led to.

Plans and Catch-Ups

Its been, dare I say, a fairly productive morning, and hopefully that will continue and I haven’t jinxed it. I’ve been in discussions around setting up a dyslexia awareness talk in mid-July at one of my libraries with the aim of providing support and signposting for families where there is a new diagnosis or the thought that there might be need to investigate. We’re aiming it then to try and tie in with end-of-year school reports when this might be part of some families’ conversations.

I’ve also had a catch up with our corporate sponsor for the LGBTQ+ Staff Network to talk about recent initiatives and how we can look to drum up engagement across the organisation, as well as encourage people within the network to take part in contributing to events and initiatives. It was a good gathering of minds and marked as ever by lightness to balance the serious elements. It’s always nice to hear that people look forward to our meetings because of the smiles.

Just one more meeting to go – a catch up with the managers in my group to compare notes, pass on information and let off steam. We might even have a look at the rotas.

Non-work related, I was also out last night for a rare evening excursion while everyone else was busy – catching up with Lady G and putting the world to rights in a quiet pub corner while ignoring sports coverage on big screens nearby. I had forgotten how nice it is sometimes to just step out for a couple of hours as a break. It was also two for one on burgers so it was a cheap night which is always a bonus.

Right, lunch finished, back to the grindstone

Slow Starts

It took one of my members of staff mentioning it this morning for me to realise that the clocks going forward for summer had thrown my internal bodyclock out. I’m so used to waking with daylight at a given time that the hour’s shift has been very noticeable. I’m pretty sure that’s why I’m feeling woolly-headed and out of sorts today.

Well – it could be another head cold trying to get started, admittedly, but that’s usually not something that makes me yawn and rub my eyes. As tempting as it was to stay in bed, I’ve done the adult thing and got myself to work instead. I’ve picked one of my smaller libraries with staff parking (a rarity), and ensconced myself in the back room to prepare for a meeting and pick off quick-win tasks. Out front there’s been a school visit and the sound of children being children has been a quiet backdrop to the morning.

It’s quietly productive times like this that are easy to overlook when thinking about job satisfaction. I don’t work in an office environment so don’t have the quiet bustle of being around other people. Sometimes that makes the day go quickly, and sometimes it can be unhelpful. I’m very much aware that I have a short week this week as I’ll be travelling for a family event during it, so I’m focused on setting things going that I can come back to, and on tying off loose ends.

With that said, I don’t think its particularly different to many other people’s working week where their work environment isn’t directly involved with frontline customer service. I’m not entirely sure where I’m going with this – perhaps just a gentle acknowledgement that sometimes its okay to just let the day tick by, appreciating when things are generally proceeding with only the occasional nudge here and there. It makes a gentle contrast to when everything needs to happen in a hurry or change direction rapidly in response to an external factor.

Here’s to quiet days in the office

DDC – Whispers in the Dark

This week’s session dealt with the aftermath of last week’s assassination of Lord Bentane – Thorin’s father – and saw each of the characters engage in different ways with the situation and each other. Kerne cared for Karkanna until she was ready to get back out and be visible, rousing the staff and inhabitants of the Hold in the practical elements that needed to be done to repair and set right damages. Thorin went away from the group to a woods near the Hold to grieve and smash things for a while before similarly returning to be visible and take charge. Arwan approached Caeluma in their shrine and reassured them that they had not failed in their duty – and when asked by Thorin it was Arwan who devised a quiet ceremony for the hasty burial needed.

By the end of the day, a quiet interment was held in the family crypt below the Forge – with everyone having a chance to say some last words – before the sarcophagus was sealed and its key added to the castellan’s ring. The crypt was then resealed, and a memorial plaque placed for those who might wish to pay respects later.

During that time, Valenia found the castellan had removed an item from Bentane’s possession before he was prepared for burial. It was a simple iron toy sword, of maybe two or three inches in length. The castellan said such items were usually seen as bad luck, harkening back to old stories of the “Auntie in the Fields” who was said to tease and corrupt the young to violence and betrayal.

Valenia brought this up when the DDC gathered together afterward – and they began to consider why Bentane had it when he was attacked. Thorin recalled similar old stories but hadn’t seen one before. Kerne picked the token up, and felt suddenly as if someone was listening. They didn’t hear anything so put it down, but it unnerved them intensely. Other people picked it up but heard nothing until it was Thorin’s turn – at which point he heard a whisper inside his head – “Bentane? Are you back, sweet boy?”

Similarly unnerved, he dropped the token back on the table and theories began to be spun. First and foremost was the question as to why only Kerne and Thorin could make a connection. Karkanna was called for, and she too heard a voice calling to her, recognising her – seeing her. She dropped the token and refused to have anything else to do with it. Simultaneously, her child started screaming in fear – and she left the room to quieten and see to him.

It led them to wonder how their opponents knew where they were – and after some consideration they remembered that when the Winter’s Knight had met them in the swamp, he had plucked a ring of metal from his armour, compressed its ends back to make a ring and told them to use it to call him when they had found Faye. When Kerne lifted the token up, they heard the Winter’s Knight asking if they had found Faye at last. They quickly put the ring back down next to the iron token, breaking the connection.

This confirmed a similar function for each item. Anyone linked to the original holder as family could use it. Thorin and Karkanna as children of Bentane, and Kerne as partner to Karkanna and Loris as child of Karkanna could all “hear” the whisperer – presumably of the “Auntie” who Karkanna identified as “Auntie Alice” from an encounter in her youth. The ring plucked from the Winter’s Knight’s armour was identified by Karkanna as being adamantine. It was keyed to Kerne, and presumably would also work for Faye and for Karkanna in turn.

They decided that the ring needed to be destroyed. Valenia went to the forge to grab a hammer, while Caeluma tried to burn it with eldritch blasts. These succeeded in breaking the table it was on and setting fire to various maps and small bits of paper they were making notes on. Thorin grabbed the iron token for safety and heard the whispers again while everyone else was focused on the ring.

The voice claimed to know who the Circle was and to be opposed to them. It said that it despised the trolls and had been Bentane’s ally. It said to come to the fields and follow the trail he would find – that the whisperer and Bentane had fought the trolls together before and that he had been a good boy.

The DDC felt that this was their best chance to find out what was going on so they could start to take the initiative rather than be reactive – and so Valenia was sent to tell Karkanna that the group would be leaving in the morning.

Lore Drop – The Sons of Alice

We’ve covered Deadeye Alice and her husbands, the Chainmates, and now it is time for her sons – a set of mighty warriors who protect hearth and home, and occasionally go on a rowdy hunt through the Blackcap Mountains. The Sons of Alice, also described in tales as the Alicespawn, largely wear red and black clothing and armour. They were not seen much during the Last War, though some speculate that just means there were no survivors of encounters – or that they retreated into the mountains to ride it out whenever armies ventured onto their territory.

Jotin, Makkar, Ruthek, Goor, and Kher are all half-ogres with hag blood in their veins. They form a barbarian clan devoted to Alice that exists on the threshold of rage, fuelled by the contrast between their fathers and their fey lineage. Jotin in particular is feared for the symbiont spear that he took from a daelkyr cultist and had enchanted by his mother. He often leads the warband into battle, flanked by Makkar and Ruthek who are brutal close-quarters fighters. Goor and Kher are brighter than their brothers, and tend to fight more strategically – though with equal relish.

Tales are told of hulking warriors who patrol the lands claimed by Alice – leaving the dismembered remains of those who trespass as warnings for others. Roars from the horizon may be bears or yetis – but are just as likely to be attributed to the Sons. They stayed out of the battle between the trolls and the dwarves over the years, but their mother’s antipathy towards trolls no doubt informs their actions. Tales of burned out caves and bonfires with distorted bones are whispered by trappers and hunters alike along the north of the Blackcaps – but if these are warnings left by the Sons, they’re vague enough for most people to shudder and move on.

Deck of Worlds Arrived

At long last, and mostly down to disruption to services due to strikes around the Christmas and New Year period, I have got my hands on the Deck of Worlds. Its the result of a Kickstarter I backed last year by the same team who created the The Story Deck. Both of these boxes of prompt cards are now sitting very proudly on my bookshelf and will be getting some use over the weekend.

The entire concept is that there are different cards for types of location, something significant there, an adjective or property that can be applied to either, a peculiarity of the region, and something that is happening there. These can be shuffled and interpreted in all sorts of ways – and in particular I think they’ll be useful for world building in my games.

As an experiment I ran through the cards and came up with a combination that I turned into the following description:

In a windswept forest lies the ruins of a forge and workshop that legend declares to have once been the home of unknown gods. When the wind whips round and the moon is bright, the sound of roaring flames still lingers here. Animal life that comes close to the ruins seem to become confused while near, but soon recover when they leave.

I then fired up Dungeon Alchemy and created the image in this blog post – showing a clearing in a hilly forest. Within it lies the ancient forge, bits of fallen masonry, an abandoned temple building behind it, a well and an overgrown path leading away into the forest. I’ll post the finished map when I’ve added a few more trees and bushes along with some ideas for encounters. I might even use a version of it in one of the D&D games I’m currently running as it has turned out rather well I think.

Lore Drop – The Chainmates of Deadeye Alice

The Annis Hag known as Deadeye Alice is a solitary being, at least as far as others of her kind go. She does not live alone however. Over the many years of her existence she has formed a family of her own choosing – and the first part of that was taming the so-called Chainmates.

Hurrek and Dhellis are ogres, native to the Blackcap mountains, who were captured by slavers and forced to fight. At first they were confined to arenas but as their prowess and experience grew they became trusted enough to act on behalf of the owners of the arena. Bound together by their chains, they fought as a unit to make the most of their strengths despite their shackles. Then, one day, they saw an opportunity to break their chains and slay their captors. They did so and then struck off on their own to make their own way through the world.

Hurrek and Dhellis reworked the chains of their slavery into savage weapons to sweep opponents away, while the bonds of their time together led them to a deep and passionate relationship. In time they entered lands claimed by Deadeye Alice – and she aided them – seeing fellow outcasts. The two ogres crushed her enemies, and she provided for them – and then took them as husbands. Devoted to her as much as to each other, the ogres sired five sons with her and taught those sons how to fight.

The ogres are never too far from their wife – they are wily and surprisingly stealthy for such large beings – but at the same time they also know not to question her or get in the way of her schemes. Deadeye Alice is absolutely in charge, even if that control is sometimes masked in honeyed words. There is a brutal directness and honesty between the three of them and their sons that can be mistaken for a lack of awareness by outsiders, but do not be fooled. This may not be a traditional hag’s coven, but their knowledge and understanding of each other means that they are a greater threat together than apart.

A foolish bard once opined that the Chainmates had swapped slavery in the arena for a different kind of ownership. His remains were found on several spikes a week later.

NPC – Vasselack Dwarfbane

A scream in the night, and a roar of triumph was the DDC’s introduction to Vasselack the Dwarfbane – the slayer of Bentane Amberhammer. He escaped justice by running through walls and out into the night – and was an enemy unlike anything encountered by the group before. Vasselack is a spirit troll – a rare offshoot of the species that has survived an unusual death and been reborn in a new and unusual form.

When the mindflayers took over the Amberhammer Hold, they scoured the lands around for materials to craft misshapen aberrations. They created dolgaunts and dolgrims from dwarves and goblins, hobgoblins and ogres – from anything that they could warp in the service of their daelkyr master.

Vasselack was a hunter who saw an opportunity to strike at his tribe’s old enemies while they were vulnerable. He hunted and slew refugees from the Hold by the dozen, but even this hate-filled monster paled before the mindflayers who tracked him down and stripped the soul from his body with psionic blasts before eating his brain.

And yet this was not his end. Trolls are hardy creatures almost beyond relief, and enough of his angry spirit remained to grow a new body of pure psychic energy. Insubstantial as a shadow, he crept back into the darkness and would have become a lone horror had he not been found by Irreck. Irreck brought him to the Circle of Rot and they re-bound his essence through the power of the Eye of Khyber so that he could take on physical form again for periods of time. Grateful, he swore himself to Irreck as his personal assassin.

And so, hearing that the Amberhammer Clan had retaken its Hold, and keen to strike down its leaders before they could properly settle, Vasselack was sent to strike down the old Chief Bentane, who had led his people to drive the trolls off all those years ago. Accompanied by necromantic shadows conjured by Missy Lambrot, he slipped through the walls of the Hold and began a murderous spree.

He escaped the Hold’s defenders and slipped away into the night. The first real blow of the fight has landed. Who know what will happen next?