Plague-less At Last

For some reason last night, at 10pm on the dot, my sinuses stopped hurting and the hot and cold running nose returned to normal function. Soon after the sweats stopped and my head was suddenly less woozy. The sneezing stopped, and my throat… well that carried on being grumpy until about twelve hours later – but the head cold of doom has finally given up. There was even sunshine outside this morning. My staff were therefore rudely awakened by cheery emails and gentle prods after a couple of days freedom – and my own mail box was steadily trimmed back into line with only minimal scratching and screeching.

A bit melodramatic, I know, but I’ve been barely able to string sentences together the last few days without sounding like my head was underwater so I’m making up for lost time. Now, if the depression and anxiety could also take a back seat, that would be a bonus – but that’s more of a long-term project anyway.

Lady M has returned from a few stress-filled days working on contractual and paralegal things, so she has evaded the worst of the germs – well, my germs anyway. Here’s to tomorrow going quickly and our having half a chance of a nice weekend.

Onward and upward.

Map Evolution – The Tombs

I drew a map a while back in my gridded map book, and after some meddling in Dungeon Alchemist today realised I’ve actually recreated that layout multiple times – including on a hoodie.

The original map, and the first digital version I made using the Inkarnate website are below for comparison, starting with the very basic drawing from a couple of years ago.

If I remember, I was thinking about the sort of symmetry a planned tomb structure might have – imagining side rooms with treasures and memorials of the deeds of whatever mighty warrior or conquering ruler might have.

Alternatively it could have been the lair of a lich, surrounded by storerooms, laboratories, and libraries. Either way, I wanted to represent a structure that was more planned than most dungeon layouts.

The classic dungeon tends to look like it was drawn by a stoned spider, with random rooms and corridors twisting and turning – not unlike the map I posted yesterday to be fair.

If I wanted to use them, there are any number of random dungeon generators that can emulate the confusing twists and turns and save me the bother of planning anything – but to be fair the old-school designs I make tend to be more like pretty patterns.

This second version is what I made when first getting used to the Inkarnate website, reproducing the map above. This version solidified the vision of there being a primary tomb with four smaller tombs attached that were probably lieutenants. As a location for an encounter, they would hold undead guardians of whoever, or whatever, resided in the main tomb. I included a broken altar in the room to suggest something awry – as well as skeletons posed as guards along the approach and around the tomb itself.

This version is the Dungeon Alchemist version which is entirely set up as a series of tombs rather than having side rooms. I’ve included the DAM file in the Gurreck’s Tomb zipfile so if you have the program you can have a play and reconfigure as you like. It includes cenotaphs, tablets, and biers – as well as a conversation pit at the bottom of the entrance stairs. The storytelling aspect of that to be a place to leave a body at the end of a service for the priests to attend to after the mourners have left. This is very much a use of the design for a family or Clan set of crypts while still using the planned layout.

Interesting to see how the design and thoughts on it have evolved over time. I’ll probably do another version with a more nefarious scenario – the lich or hidden alchemist’s laboratory sort of thing – but anyway, if you use any of these, let me know what you make of them.

Map – Deep Crypt

I’m still feeling flattened by what I’m starting to wonder isn’t a flu bug or something, but I am starting to recover in as much as the headaches are less intrusive and as of the time of writing I’m not overheating and streaming from the nose simultaneously. I’m on the mend I think, even if I’m having a hard time ignoring the voice berating me for taking time off. It’s a voice I wouldn’t let my staff listen to so it can go take a running leap too.

In the meantime I’ve been having a go through my somewhat battered hand-drawn map book and seeing if I can translate things in there to Dungeon Alchemist maps. The result of one of these exercises is below in what I’m calling a “Deep Crypt”. I’ve also included the original hand-drawn map below.

Complex maze of corridors and chambers against a black background, as described in the main body text

It’s not a particularly ergonomically friendly map, nor one that I suspect would be particularly structurally sound – and it bears more resemblance to an old-school D&D dungeon crawl map of the sort that graced The Temple of Elemental Evil and many pages of graph paper when I was growing up. There’s a central spiral staircase and another set of straight stairs on the right hand side (“The East”) – which suggests either a large building above, or two separate buildings.

Original hand-drawn version of the map

It is, frankly, a maze of tunnels with occasional burial chambers and a treasure room with a spherical chest in it for no more reason than it looked a fun prop to add to the map. It is also a claustrophobic little maze with most of its hallways only five foot wide – enough for the average set of adventurers to advance in single file.

In terms of using this map? Well you could probably have some sort of incorporeal undead or similar spirit playing cat and mouse with people – maybe with it being unhallowed ground to make turning undead more difficult. You could also make it a series of environmental traps with pits, sliding walls, or pockets of inflammable gas to keep people on their toes.

I’ve uploaded the Deep Crypt zipfile so you can grab the original .dam, the text file, and graphic above to toy around with – have fun and let me know what you do with it.

Still Plagued

How unwell do I feel? Well, we didn’t play D&D yesterday. Anyone who knows me will tell you it takes a lot to get me to cancel.

I seem to have a set of quantum nostrils – simultaneously clogged up and streaming – and a chest that is almost but not quite rattling so that coughs don’t quite dislodge anything. Wooziness, inability to sleep more than a couple of hours at a time, headache, all the usual fun – but at least my throat has stopped hurting.

So I’m hiding in bed with lots of warm drinks and hoping it will shift quickly.

There’s something here to contemplate on the difference in response to physical health and mental health in terms of resistance to doing some self care. I’m too bunged up in the head to think properly though so I’ll just leave it here like a seed for later.

Knew It Couldn’t Last

It’s been a while since I’ve had a proper headcold that’s included the usual bunged up nose, sore throat, and floaty wibblyness so waking this morning with it all at once was accompanied by a deep sense of annoyance. It’s probably just being generally run down that’s done it. I’ve been doing the sensible things like keeping the fluids up and being sensible with what I get up to. After a shop at Tesco with Lady M I’ve mostly been on the sofa quietly preparing for tomorrow’s game or going out on the balcony to get some fresh air.

Hopefully I haven’t passed it on to anyone else while it was brewing – Lady M is also suffering with it, but that’s only to be expected – and equally hopefully I’ll have kicked it into the long grass by the end of the weekend.

One nice thing to have arrived in the post was a recent KickStarter – Apequest – which is based on the shenanigans of Professor Elemental. When I’ve got my brain back in the room with me I’ll do a write up. Likewise for Flamecraft which arrived a month or two back and which Lady M and I have greatly enjoyed.

Right, time for something to drink and to prop myself up for a doze. Yay.

NPCs – The Amberdune Booksellers

In the Librarians game, the group has encountered a close-knit group of family who run a book stall in one of the markets in Sharn. Glib and ready with an answer to any enquiry, the booksellers have been linked to a spate of books that later turned into monsters – and as yet the truth of the matter has yet to be revealed.

I made a Heroforge portrait of the owner of the book stall, and then decided to round out the depictions of the other members of the family. Those of you who have played or who have access to Candlekeep Mysteries will know the secret of this family. If you don’t want to have a spoiler, then stop reading beyond these portraits of Theryn, Zan, Inbar, Marliza, Ramah, Avani, and Korvala.

The Amberdune book sellers are a pack of jackalweres who used to follow a lamia that was killed by adventurers. Unlike other lamia which are creatures of evil, this one delighted in the amassing of knowledge, and taught the jackalweres to do the same. The pack’s leader is Korvala, and the lamia taught her how to summon creatures that could duplicate the appearance of objects as well as become ordinary small animals and amorphous creatures. These creatures feed off the life energy of the living but are only able to do so when in their native state.

Geased by the lamia not to share this knowledge with the rest of the pack, Korvala has been using the ritual to create temporary duplicates of rare books scavenged from the lamia’s lair so that the pack can raise the funds for magic to restore the lamia to life. There had been no intention of harming anyone, and it was sheer bad luck that the duplicates were traded to the library and then starved enough that they reverted to their natural forms to feed.

We shall see how the group resolves this situation, hopefully next week…

Librarians – In The Market

We picked up the D&D game I run with colleagues and their ongoing attempts to find out why books in the library keep turning into strange creatures that try to eat their readers. So far they’ve narrowed down the stall that each of the books was bought from, attempted to distract Korvala, the rather intimidating woman who owns it, and accidentally collapsed the market tent while sneaking around.

This week they decided to go back to check out one of the books that had stood out – a rare volume that Caitriona the elven priestess had been trying to track down since it had itself been stolen from her homeland. A combination of bluffs, quick talking, and downright blind luck found her walking away with it for a reduced price – and the group was just debating what to do next when Roghan the sorcerer spotted Korvala coming out of a nearby garden.

Portrait of Korvala - a darker skinned woman wearing a plain blue headcovering

He attempted to surreptitiously cast a hex on her to blunt her charisma, but she noticed him and stared him down across the marketplace before turning abruptly and heading off down an alley. Moderately surprised that she hadn’t called the guard, the group stealthily (mostly) managed to track her back to the more run down neighbourhood she lived in. They watched her enter a ramshackle house and decided to follow her. They found the door unlocked, and quietly opened the door to reveal a homely room with rough chairs, a thick blanket on the floor, and two other doors leading further in to the building. There was no one immediately in sight.

And that’s where we’ll pick up next week (hopefully)

Unused Scenario – Recruitment Drive

When working out the key elements of the DDC game I occasionally come up with events and encounters that don’t end up seeing the light of day. Sometimes I recycle them and sometimes they sit in my DNDBeyond encounters list becoming less and less likely to get used. In the spirit of giving some inspiration therefore, I sometimes write them up in general terms for people to use or avoid depending on whether they see it as an idea or a warning.

In this case I had an early idea that the group might stumble upon someone working for or with the trolls in the middle of negotiating with potential allies. In this version of the timeline I hadn’t quite worked out the dynamics of the Circle of Rot or its driving principles and so the back story to this was one of attempted conquest rather than a nihilistic drive to consume and destroy.

map plan of a misty evening view of buildings on the edge of a graveyard with a large bonfire in a courtyard.

The inspiration for the scenario came from a map that i downloaded from Reddit from a post by u/Dreadmaps and was a large bonfire in a graveyard. I did some lighting level work in Roll20 to add wall boundaries and light sources once I’d uploaded it and put the player tokens in the top left corner as a default ahead of any actual encounter.

The concept was that a Tiefling druid working with the Circle, backed by some mutated ogres, would be trying to recruit a hill giant and his pet manticores. The group would have a chance to overhear some of the villainous plans and then either interrupt or sneak away from the scene, depending on how brave they were feeling.

As it turned out, the DDC hasn’t adopted a strategy of creeping about the valley in search of creatures to slay, and the concept of the trolls co-opting outsiders didn’t ring true with the way the group was experiencing the story either. As a result, the encounter has languished and been overtaken by events and power levels. I may throw some variant of it at them as a random encounter if play allows, but otherwise I throw this open to the floor.

The antagonists, if you want to build it for yourself, consisted of a CR2 4th level Druid, 4x CR2 Carrion Ogres (essentially ogres with carrion crawler heads), 3x CR3 Manticores, and a CR5 Hill Giant Sergeant. It was aimed at being a Medium difficulty encounter for 5x level 13 adventurers rather than a grand battle royale.

DDC – Now What?

It was only a short session by our usual standards yesterday – mostly down to tiredness and health – but it was an important breather for the group. Having had such a fraught fight previously, they needed to recuperate, and on contacting Auntie (Deadeye Alice) she told them it would take her a couple of days to narrow down where Rufen – or at least the token – had been taken. This was because she could tell he was on the move and wanted to get a definite fix on where he ended up.

With that in mind, the DDC had a quiet day. They divided out the various magic items and weapons thay had taken from Rufen, and tried to use the sending stone they’d taken from one of the trolls to see who was at the other end. A furious and almost gutteral voice yelled back that they were going to kill them and then the stone snapped in half. Despite attempts to fix it, the magic of the stone was gone.

Later, an inhabitant of New Town – a sorcerer who had accompanied one of the stranded merchant trains – came up and asked to use the library and was a bit star struck by Kerne. After some attempts at modesty by Kerne, Katya was allowed access and the two began comparing notes on aspects of their shared specialities. Kerne heard how Katya’s previous tutor had held her back, and so offered to help with their studies. The ended up spending a good portion of the afternoon in the gardens practicing their magics.

Meanwhile, Bennet the Bard who works both in the Hold and in the newly established town below it approached Arwan and Valenia and advised them that a number of the townspeople weren’t content to just sit and wait to be rescued and were determined to start checking for cave systems or unblocked passes to try and find a way out. He’d decided to approach the pair to see if they would be willing to be called on if people got hurt or found anything too dangerous like angry bears. The pair agreed to be on call and to make themselves available as needed.

The next morning saw pillars of smoke on the north of the plains from the direction of the various farms. A quick expedition by the DDC to the nearest one found all the building destroyed and on fire, the wells poisoned and blocked with the bodies of animals, and the crop lands salted and polluted. There were heavy troll footprints and the signs of heavy objects being dragged. Fearing that this might be a decoy to pull them away from the Hold, they doubled back and called for the townsfolk to be called inside the Hold for their own protection. A small number of guards were sent as scouts to the other farmland locations.

Not long after, while Kerne and Karkanna were discussing wedding plans, Caeluma noticed sparks of energy at the dormant portal stone and went to investigate. Small shakes and shudders sent the snow sliding away from the construction, and the sparks began to converge to form a small bubble of liquid-looking energy. Caeluma sent someone to go get the others. As the rest of the DDC began to converge, a portal began to haltingly form. It wasn’t stable, and a lone figure could be faintly made out in the shifting view that was forming. On a hunch, Kerne stood forward and poured raw magical potential from her latent pool of sorcery into the vortex to act as a stable anchor.

With a silent flash of force, the portal expelled the figure within and vanished. It left a battered, frozen, wounded Faye Hagsworn standing on the platform, leaning heavily on a rune-carved staff to which was lashed the petrified claw of a dragon.

Image of Faye Hagsworn - a dragon-like red scaled dragonborn with thorns around her horns. She wears yellow clothing with yellow details that resemble leaves, and a cloak. She holds a spear in one hand, and a fox stands at her feet as a companion

And that’s where we left the session. I have so much lined up in terms of lore and possible events based on what the DDC do next. We’ll see, if nothing else, why Faye has sought out her sister now. The last they’d heard, she was on the run from the Winter’s Knight…

Lore Drop – On The Nature of Trolls

The Chosen Family of the Circle of Rot are unusual in their drive, but not so much in their nature. Trolls are defined by the appetite and hunger, as well as their incredible resilience. That hunger to consume is at the core of the danger posed by the trolls of the Blackcap Mountains, and may also prove to be the biggest hurdle to their success.

The DDC has already learned that the sisters of the Circle are aligned with the Winter’s Knight. They have also learned that the Knight wants to “consume the Spring so that Summer never arrives” and to bring in an eternal winter. It doesn’t matter if that apocalypse covers the world or merely the valleys of Clan Amberhammer, not to the Knight of Winter.

This matches well then with the drive of the trolls to consume everything. They and the dwarves have been locked in struggle for generations in an analogue of the Seasons. The trolls consume and tear down, and the dwarves build and grow. In a struggle of stories, for that is what it becomes when the fey get involved, the way forward may be obvious while also a fork in the road.

If the trolls exist to consume everything, and embody a principle of rot, then what happens if a branch of that partnership is seen to be vulnerable or begins to fail in the face of opposition? Will the strong consume the weak, no matter their nature, or will the family bonds prove stronger than the story?

If the dwarves – and by extension the DDC – exist to build, then how much destruction is acceptable to break the cycle? Is breaking the cycle the best thing to do – or is there something else at play?