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…

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…

More NPCs – Just Because

Surprise, surprise, I’ve been playing in Heroforge to wind down from a busy day. I’ve no plans for these, but it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve said that and then ended up folding them into one of the games. In this instance I’ve made a tiefling investigator, and a tortle hermit, and had some fun trying out some new options.

Merriam Fellbane has a devilish influence somewhere in her bloodline, as evidenced by the cloven hooves, tail, and horns – not to mention the pointed ears and odd-looking eyes. Despite her family’s background, they are lawful members of their local community and well-regarded. Merriam has followed in her father’s hoofsteps and trained to be an investigator working with the local guards on cases that are more complicated than usual, or that need a quiet follow-up. A talented sorcerer with a few rogue skills tucked in her wrist guards, Merriam could well be a quiet thorn in unruly groups’ sides – or an ally if the path to bringing a villain to justice is obscure.

Fisher Rawk lives by the coast in a tidal cave, where he lives off the land. A druid by calling, he lives a quiet life preserving the wildlife and plantlife native to his area. Sometimes he has to warn off settlers from overusing an area. Sometimes he protects settlers from raiders from across or below the waves. His demeanour is wry and calm, and while not dismissive of civilisation his calling keeps him serving nature where he is rather than running after trouble for its own sake.

Short Story: Unquiet Jenny

There’s something you need to know about magic and about the people who get mixed up in the real stuff. It’s all about the power of stories, and how we get caught up in them and by them. I used to say that all magic was about lying, but that turned out to be too simple a view.

I used to tell people that magic was the art of lying to the universe. I would say that the best liars could do it so well that people and places and events began to believe it. If I was feeling particularly facetious on any given day, I could point to any number of populist politicians to illustrate my point.

It turned out I was doing the universe a grave disservice in doing so, and it pushed back – but that’s a story for another time.

Did you see what I did there? Anyway, I was talking about the power that lies not only in tall tales but also in deep truth – and how both can be transformative. We talk of how people become local legends, if we’re kind, or about people being legends in their own lunchtimes if we’re being less kind.

People begin to be obscured sometimes by the stories we tell. If that sounds odd, go look up the origins of some local legend and see what happens when you dig in to find the person beneath it. Stories expand and embellish people, places, and events. They also simplify and streamline and softly erase the bits that don’t quite fit – like water across stones.

Magic is the art of recognising stories and using them.

There’s an oracle I occasionally call upon when I’m in search of lost things or lost people. They’re a reclusive soul, or at least that’s how I characterise them. Before they became what they are now, they lived a life that became smaller over the years. They were known simply as Jenny.

No one knows where Jenny came from. They’d laid claim to the small side alley between a sports equipment shop and a fried chicken franchise on the High Street for a few years before I came on the scene. The alley led to a rarely used fire escape from the back of a multistory carpark that I’m fairly sure had been all but forgotten by its owners.

Jenny had a stash of blankets, boxes, and assorted scavenged items that marked their spot. It was a hard life, with no end of attempts at intervention by police and social services. Those never came to much. There were ugly encounters with others surviving in the area, and with predators seeking easy meat.

Jenny wasn’t easy meat, and they looked out for newcomers too. Simple thuggery and threats were seen off with razor tongue and a handmade shiv if need be. More unusual things occasionally seeped into the story however – and that’s where we met a few times.

Jenny never talked about where they had come from. Their story was rooted in the simplicity of who they were now. Their magic came from the stability of being unyielding, and how that story cemented expectation on top of reputation and painted it with a veneer of watchfulness.

Jenny was always on the lookout, always watching. They always had a vigilance that underlaid their demeanour. They were always unsettled. They might be steady in the face of fae on the hunt for names or the blood of the guilty, but they were always Unquiet.

I always knew that Jenny could tell me things if they felt I needed to know it, but they always kept things close. Life on the streets is hard, and a diet of scavenged or donated fried chicken rarely helps health bloom. Jenny kept their own counsel even as they faded and wasted in their rough sibylline shelter.

No one knew they were fading. Their legend as a permanent resident and acid-tongued speaker of truths made people’s gaze slip past the real person. They became that person who would tell sudden observations from the shadows of an unlit alley. They would demand food for answers – a tribute for their time.

Over time, the whispered voice grew quieter, but was still there for those who listened. The owner of the voice may not be among the living any more, but Unquiet Jenny was still to be heard, and still offering words of advice to those deemed worthy.

The shrine to whatever resides in that alley now is decorated with old chicken bones and placated with fast food offerings by those in the know. If you’re lost in life, and you see a stack of old cartons by a wall, try to listen for a quiet but defiant voice. It may be looking out for you before you realise how lost you are.

Jenny became a story, like the witches of Pendle Hill or the pirates under black sails. I’m doing my part to keep that story going, and now you’ve heard their story, you’re keeping it alive for as long as you remember it.

And what do I get out of all this? Unquiet Jenny doesn’t want to rest. They still watch and advise, keeping ahead of something they never talked about in life – and I’m curious to find out what that untold story is. When they trust me, they’ll tell me. After that, we’ll see, and perhaps when all is done they won’t be restless any more.

Keep your ears open, believe your eyes, let’s find out what happens next.

NPC – Konred the Korred

One of the fairy bandits that attacked the DDC on Sunday was a Korred – a small creature with strong ties to the earth and stone that are normally quite reclusive. They can smell out minerals, metals, and gemstones and are usually only encountered if someone has annoyed them with the sound of mining. They always know the shape of the stone beneath the soil, and where voids and concealed areas are. Finding one in the company of a group of fairy outcasts is extremely unusual – but they are chaotic and whimsical creatures and perhaps Konred enjoys the excitement of breaking routine and upsetting the steady path of other creatures.

Korreds have one other unique property – and that pertains to their hair. It is profuse and long, and takes on the properties of whatever is used to cut it. Konred has a whip made from his own hair when it was cut with steel shears – and his innate magic allows him to animate and control it as needed – whenever he isn’t throwing rocks or swinging a greatclub with a strength that seems quite at odds with his size.

Konred’s ability to sniff out what others prize as riches endeared him to his new companions – as well as his ability to commune with nature and get a sense of what features stand out in the surrounding area. With him in tow, the fey creatures never get lost in the layers of Thelanis, or when they venture into the more common reality of Eberron.

During the fight he scooped up and formed balls of rock as easily as someone might mold clay or snow. He threw them with punishing force, knocking Caeluma out briefly, but he was not a brave or dedicated bandit in any sense of the word. When Thorin began to hit him with his axe he blustered and complained he had “a boulder and fifteen pebbles to support”, and promptly melded into the stony ground below to escape. It remains to be seen whether this experience puts him off his brief career as a criminal.

NPC – Cinderblock

Sometimes when toying around with Heroforge I’ll get a character step right out of the model – not just in terms of attitude and presence, but in the mechanics of how they operate. That’s probably the most appropriate term to use for Cinderblock, who is a Warforged warlock created at the height of the Last War. Originally designed to be an infiltrator scout, Cinderblock got caught in a magical crossfire in an ambush and was assumed to have been killed.

As they hovered on the edge of final deactivation, they called out blindly into the void and something answered. Something curious about this new soul light that had not been there before, and that was looking for a way into the physical world. A deal was offered: life and power in return for service. In desperation, the deal was taken, and Cinderblock blasted their way to freedom with a new set of capabilities that seemed quite at odds to their previous existence

Since then, Cinderblock has made a new pathway – seeking old places sealed away thousands of years ago and gathering the knowledge and power needed to open a path for their patron. Years of obeying orders in war made taking orders from an otherworldly voice in their head an easy transition. Their suppressed rage now manifests in fire and eldritch blasts as they search. They’re not sure what exactly they’re looking for, but along the way they have encountered others who have felt the power of their patron and have taken reassurance of sorts that this proves it isn’t all just inside their head.

Cinderblock doesn’t know the true name of their patron. They know it only by the title it demands – that of Master. It doesn’t matter to Cinderblock. They have life and purpose, and enough discretion in how they achieve that purpose to indulge a little spite along the way.

DDC – Odif and Ufot Yloh

For those who don’t follow the vagaries and peculiarities of our regular Sunday game of Dungeons and Dragons, the wily kobold known as Odif was adopted by the group under highly irregular circumstances. He was discovered as a baby, and all attempts at finding his original parents failed. They took him into their hearts instead; named him, and clothed him, and raised him as best they could – while also fighting to save their little portion of the world. In time, he began to exhibit a tendency and talent for tinkering with objects around him. As he grew older, the group suspected he would move beyond simple toys and amusements and perhaps become an artificer. So, like all devoted parents they made training and tools available, and decided to let him pick his own path.

As the adventures of the DDC became more dangerous, and necessitated longer periods on the road, the Warforged rogue known as Coal volunteered to act step down from active adventuring. He would instead step up as Odif’s guardian. As part of that process he used his portion of the group’s earnings to buy and develop a club house for youngsters in need of shelter, distraction, education and perhaps the odd meal or two. He reckoned that this would also provide peers nearer Odif’s age as well as a more structured and less hazardous life.

Subsequent glimpses back by the DDC, as well as a one-shot adventure recently have shown that Coal’s Clubhouse is thriving. There are many people of all ages who drop in and support or are themselves supported – and it is mere conjecture and rumour-mongering to suggest that Coal has in fact set up a small and thriving Thieves’ Guild that operates out of the establishment. Odif and Coal are well-known in the area – and the one-shot consisted of local young adventurers being set a task of a “reverse heist” to deliver presents around the New Year festival.

In a vibrant and diverse city such as Fairhaven – especially in such close proximity to the University District – there are many strange and unusual individuals, but not many of those known to the wider public are kobolds. As a result Odif’s whereabouts are often remarked on. When another kobold appeared on the scene therefore, there was also intense scrutiny and conjecture as to whether they knew each other. Odif was a young male kobold without a biological family, and this new kobold maiden became known to the wider populace as Ufot Yloh.

Rumours began to fly as each were seen at the Clubhouse at various times, though there was no suggestion of impropriety beyond a shared predilection for pranks and leaving small traps or explosives for each other to find. Will they form a romantic link? Or is that perhaps expecting a little too much of two young kobolds with similar senses of mischief and ability to turn up in unusual places? If Coal has an opinion on the matter, he remains tight-lipped but positive. He has been supportive of both, and has been seen showing each of them around the area and including them in social events and gatherings at the Clubhouse.

A romance, or a friendship? Why not both?

And yet…

It would be tempting to leave this here and let imaginations wander – but this is the DDC, and they have very strange and queer adventures at the best of times. So time to draw the curtain back a little.

Odif gets his name from the meat provided by Tanglefinger the Boggart who lives in the DDC’s house. He was asked to get ‘an identifiable named meat’ and being a slightly malicious fey creature the meat he provided was certainly identifiable – it had a dog collar and tag labelled “Fido”. The reversed name stuck. During the travels of the group, the spell known as “Create Food and Water” was used to bolster rations – and the resulting bland but filling foodstuff was nicknamed “Holy Tofu” by the DDC

When creating the character sheet for Odif, I took the Faceless background which provides him with an alter ego and disguise that completely differentiates him and protects him. That alter ego, which is becoming better known than Odif in certain circles, is Ufot Yloh. A change of clothes, some greasepaint and fake horn extensions, and some practiced changes in how they move and suddenly there are two kobolds in the neighbourhood. Isn’t it lovely how they’re always talking about each other?

Kobolds are generally non-binary, don’t care about gender norms in the same way as some societies, and can slowly change sex as needed. How this will play out in the campaign is anyone’s guess – but I’ll remind you that the tagline for the campaign is “A Very Queer Adventure”

Lore Drop – The Family

And so it came to pass that three prodigies were born to the trolls of the Blackcap Mountains. Three brothers, born with rare wit and insight to match their physical strength, and they thrived. As they fought and grew, they developed a strong sense that their lot could be better. The listened to their elders talk of the wars with the dwarves and how they had been driven out of their hunting grounds and away into the harshest peaks. They raged at the loss of their ancestral homes. When they were grown, they crept away from their scattered tribe and away from the harsh territories they had known to spy on those who had conquered their birthright. They saw how the dwarves built their Hold and traded, and enjoyed the fruits of the land and the treasures of the depths. They learned all they could of civilisation, and then went their separate ways into the lands beyond after swearing a bond to return and reclaim their place. One went North and found the Wastes of the Last War. One went South and found The Pit. One went East, and found The Sisters.

In the Wastes, Urash found weapons and machines abandoned and broken by war. He created armour for himself and taught himself how to use what he had found. He began to seek out scattered trolls willing to join his cause and strike back with him. Inspired by the uniforms and medals of the fallen, he forged amulets and gave his new companions pride and purpose. The Fists of Urash would strike hard and endure. They would be loud, and draw all eyes to them. Urash The Proud was his name.

Dhumish crept into The Pit. He was second of the brothers and the hardiest of them all. Amid crumbling ruins and fell residual magics in the Lands Below, he became warped in appearance and mind alike. Preserved by his trollish resilience and unnatural will, he became a walking blight. He pulled the broken and dying of his race to his embrace, and gave them new purpose and new forms. Among his forces are trolls who are too angry to die, trolls who are riddled with rot, venom, and mutation. The Tide of Dhumish would undermine and corrupt. They would be the quiet before the avalanche. Dhumish Crackleg was his name.

Irreck made his way through broken lands to distant Droaam, the nation of monsters. Along the way he haunted the roads and passes to hunt travellers and hone his skills. As far from home as he was, he never forgot the Bond. The Daughter of Sora Kell were amused by the impudent troll hunter, but revealed to him the location of the Sisters of Rot. These remarkable troll sisters had studied with the Hags and also had a dream. The three sisters were a match in ambition and power to the three brothers. Irreck the Stalker was his name.

Irreck brought the Sisters of Rot back to the Blackcaps. They watched the turmoil in the dwarven lands as the forces of The Pit and the Winter Knight were pushed back into the night and swore to take advantage. A new Pact was formed. The Brothers and The Sisters became a Chosen Family. They would undermine and overthrow the dwarves and their allies. They would reclaim the hunting grounds. They would raise high the Eye of Khyber and nothing would be the same ever again

Urash The Proud, Dhumish Crackleg, and Irreck the Stalker. Granny Riptooth, Nanny Gutrun, and Missy Lambrot were their names. Their Chosen Family would soon be known to all.

A Warforged Gathering

There’s definitely a therapeutic aspect to playing in HeroForge alongside the creative exercise of the emergent storytelling. As part of my preparations for the next phase of DDC adventures I’ve been toying with a series of Warforged antagonists, so thought I’d put them up here to give them an airing.

Warforged were introduced to Dungeons & Dragons in the world of Eberron – and are the products of a recently ended continent-wide war. House Cannith looked for ways to bolster armies by reverse engineering old giantish constructs. Somehow during their creation process, the warforged developed souls and a struggle began to be accepted alongside the biological races. One of the treaty conditions at the end of the war was a universal acceptance of the warforged as a people in their own right – something that still sits uneasily in some quarters.

In terms of naming conventions, the warforged often adopt functional or simple descriptive words associated with forging, machinery, or construction – but exceptions are growing as confidence grows in developing their own identities and culture.

So from top left we have Link – a sorcerer channelling lightning; Chain, an assassin; and Hook – a swashbuckling pirate. On the bottom row from the left we have Watcher – an investigator and his dog; Iron Ryan – a bare knuckle pit fighter; and Coal – gentleman rogue about town and his favourite Mimic

I’ve already used Iron Ryan and Coal in the adventures – Iron Ryan started as a foil for Thorin in his pit fighting career and for a while was a romantic entanglement for Kerne. The amount of time the DDC was away on adventures led to the romance fizzling out. While it was amicable enough, I’m sure there’s a rematch due in the future – and then there’s always the reactions of Karkanna to factor in as well to this imposing ex. Coal adventured alongside the DDC as their designated rogue before semi-retiring to raise Odif while the group headed off to Clan Amberhammer. He created a “Youth Club” for local tearaways that may or may not also be the core of a new Thieves Guild if the rumours are to be believed…

Fiction Fragment – Ambush Aftermath

Once the bushes had stopped shaking, and the outraged cries had reduced to a soft moaning, the various hides and camouflage screens could be safely opened – and indeed were. Leaves dislodged from the trees and whipped up by ripping ropes were still swirling and dancing in the disturbed air in the clearing, and these lent an air of hurried readjustment to the proceedings. The group emerged into the open air, brushing themselves clean of errant twigs, leaves, and dirt.

Farren took it upon himself to check the pit on the other side of the now-swept space. He was heard to chuckle before he returned. “Well,” he said, “we didn’t get the monkey, but we did get the organ-grinder. Not sure he’s necessarily the brains of the outfit, mind.” He gestured vaguely behind at the ragged opening in the ground.

Pel and Raak bounded over to peer down. Pel had a coiled rope looped over his arm and shoulder and looked ready to shake it loose. Raak had knocked an arrow and was aiming it generally down into the pit without drawing. Em was the last to emerge from her concealment, and she took a moment to scan the perimeter of the clearing before engaging with Farren.

“So, all that and we didn’t get what we came for?”

“Yet” Farren replied. He jerked his thumb back to the pit where Pel was lowering himself down to their captive. “I can’t imagine he’ll be particularly difficult to persuade to talk.”

“Hope so – that was a lot of work.” Em sat on a large fallen tree trunk on the edge of the trail that had led here and cracked her knuckles. “Remind me again why we took this job?”

“Coin, same as ever, and a promise of passage on the next ship west.” Farren rubbed the back of his neck, then turned towards the pit to see Pel and Raak hoisting a dirt and leaf-covered youth back to the surface. “You’ll see, we’ll be on our way soon enough.”