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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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…
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?
I made these models a while back and thought I’d bring them up as another example of a group of mercenaries for a game encounter. I’ve nothing particularly made up for them, but I like the designs and thought I’d share them
These mercenaries are led by Riklun Steelfist – a duergar psionicist who lost his right arm in a skirmish and had it replaced with a darksteel prosthetic. With his original warband destroyed in the encounter, he sought out and slew the leader of a small orc mercenary group, offering new direction and more profitable work. He rounded out the group by recruiting two ogres and an ogrillon as extra muscle and worked up a number of simple but effective ambush routines with simple labels.
The Raiders have a small but growing reputation for tracking down bandit groups and for retrieving goods stolen from merchant trains. These jobs are often undertaken away from civilised eyes and are brutal and sudden strikes bolstered by Riklun’s stealth and psionic powers.
The two ogres – Farrd and Barrgh – defer to the ogrillon half-ogre Lamech when it comes to plans, and so those three are sometimes split off from the main force to act as reserves or a nasty surprise to close a trap. Riklun sometimes joins his orc mercenaries as obvious guards for merchants and has the ogres take a parallel path, ready to rush in when summoned in the event of an attack
So there you go – a ready made mercenary band that can be allies or enemies as your game needs – feel free to grab the tokens and have some fun!
One of the dangers of the DDC’s fight against the trolls of the Circle of Rot is that if a troll is not finished off, it will eventually come back to literally bite them. Another danger is that nobody yet knows quite what the capacities and resources of the three sisters are. Something that has started to be noticed however is that some of the more unusual trolls have an empowered khyber dragonshard crystal embedded in their chests. One was noted in Vasselack – the spirit troll that slew Lord Bentane Amberhammer. Others have now been seen in a troll that sweated and spurted venom, and another that radiated fierce cold and brought a frost to everything he touched.
Vasselack survived the attentions of mindflayers before being brought into the service of the Circle, but Feerwrack is something far more dangerous. Vasselack is motivated by a mixture of gratitude and rage, but Feerwrack is a believer in the aims of the Circle. He is a fanatic.
Emboldened by the success of Vasselack’s assault on the dwarven stronghold, the Circle looked to find more survivors of the psionic ravages of mindflayer assaults. They were unsuccessful in that, but they were able to further attune their magics with a device they call the Eye of Khyber. Where they found it is unknown for now, but at its heart is an enormous Khyber Dragonshard seething with energies. Fragments struck from this core and bound to the flesh of trolls warps and mutates their already unstable physiologies. Sometimes, rather than grotesques with extra limbs, a truely remarkable mutation occurs – and it is this process that Feerwrack volunteered for.
Driven by his trollish hunger to consume, he passed through the destructive embrace of the machine and came out the other side a virtual twin to Irreck’s lone executioner. At a stroke, Irreck’s assassination capabilities were doubled.
It just remains to be seen where he will place his blades next to shake the core of the DDC
Last week was a bit of a pain, even if it was generally productive. This week seems determined to continue the trend but I must remind myself that its largely my energy levels that are making things feel a bit more of an effort. Feeling tired this morning was at least partially self-inflicted as I’d made plans to meet up with Lady G to mark her birthday – which was back on Sunday. A couple of hours after work down the pub included some worldbuilding for the DDC campaign and some NPC activity to brighten the players’ days – probably.
It was a bit of a late night, but not stupidly so – so a couple of coffees this morning had me right as rain to take on the next batch of meetings and updates with an eye to keeping some reserves for the Librarian game this evening. That, alas, didn’t quite happen due to life getting in the way but we did have a great natter and lots of laughter happened.
Tomorrow looks to be more meetings and project updates, but they’re mostly checking in and making minor tweaks; or discussing more strategic issues for the staff network with our executive sponsor.
So what do I do as a distraction? If you said make maps and random creatures in HeroForge – you’d be right – here’s some works in progress…
I’ve some vague idea of adding them to my virtual tabletop as a very diverse set of mercenaries, hence the same red, grey, and white checked pattern on their robes and armour. We’ll see. Was fun to make them.
With the ongoing application of common sense that the real world takes precedent over the game, we didn’t have our D&D session today as a couple of people had to unexpectedly pitch in at work. As is my usual tack then, I’ve warned everyone this just gives me more time to come up with strange additions and quirks for the story.
More maps have been created, more mercenaries and odd NPCs created in HeroForge, and abstract patterns drawn in my notebooks while I ponder the best complications to throw at our plucky adventurers.
Case in point – this amazing lamia which is absolutely nothing to do with the DDC’s adventures. I just got liked the model and wanted to make something a bit different.
One thing I did do before we went our separate online ways was to ask the group what they had in mind to do next in the aftermath of last week’s conflicts.
They said: wedding planning
I mean, sure, they’re in the middle of a siege with ravenous trolls tearing apart the countryside and trying their best to tear the Dwarven lands asunder – and they just survived a pitch battle and stole the gear off the son of one of the troll’s leaders so why not have a light contrast.
I’m sure the trolls won’t be doing much of anything in retaliation. Well, nothing dangerous. Well, nothing that can’t wait. Yeah, the trolls will probably be regrouping or something because they need ages to heal up. I mean the Archfey manipulating the whole thing is a patient entity.
Oh, and then there’s an angry dragon out there too. What’s the worst that could happen?
I’ve spent a good portion of this afternoon doing some map work for tomorrow’s game – largely setting up relatively blank canvases that I can use for set-pieces and for random encounters depending on what direction the group goes. With the massive battle last week, I suspect there may be an attempt to regroup and plan, but I’ve been wrong before.
With that said, I’ve also been quietly revisiting some of my older maps and updating them, especially where new updates have added options to ease the process of filling out the spaces with details. In particular I’ve been playing around with the various options to paint things like undergrowth and natural features rather than manually editing things in so much.
So – for comparison here is a map I made when Dungeon Alchemy first launched where I was just trying to work out how all the buildings could be made to work. It’s called Farm Buildings, and had the concept of being a farming community around a pond or small lake:
It’s plain and simple with fields, gardens, various farmsteads and associated features. I think I spent more time trying to work out the rise and fall of the ground so it wasn’t utterly impassable or impractical. There’s no grand design. To be fair, the changes made today haven’t addressed anything like that, but I’ve got a more definite thought about how I’ll likely use it in the near future:
This feels more like a nestled collection of buildings even though all I’ve done is add rock features, trees, and bushes. Oh, I also exported this with a more 3D presentation than the more plain orthographic settings of the original. Its a bit on the large side compared to most of the maps I use in sessions, but it could work well with some larger or more mobile opponents on it to make better use of the space. All in all it feels a more naturalistic space just with these extra details painted in. It would almost certainly never exist in the real world, but it feels like it could.
I’ve a few more of these, so I’ll sprinkle them from time to time – so there’s that to look forward to
I’m really drained today after a week that has seen a lot happen, just not necessarily in the order I’d planned. Most of it has been very positive or has brought great outcomes for people on the work side of things. The biggest relief has been that the boy s has been able to access some mental health support through his GP. Now all we’ve got to do is help him get his housing sorted. Meanwhile Lady M has been storming through all barriers and has multiple nominations for awards in diversity, being an excellent manager, and a host of other wonderful things.
There’s even sunshine – and with the door open I can hear families playing out on the estate. It feels an absolute age since I’ve heard that. I’ve even been able to get in touch with my parents and have a catch-up chat. Beyond a quick dive out first thing to get groceries for the weekend I’ve otherwise been curled up on the sofa – though that’s also because its the weekend before payday so budget constraints have reinforced the idea of staying home. I’m just very aware I need the rest.
In gaming news, I got a bit bored the other day and worked up a redesign of Lady M’s character token for the DDC Sunday game, so I’ve spent a bit of time today uploading that to the virtual tabletop (Roll20) so its ready to go tomorrow.
Who knows, maybe this week Kerne won’t be quite so caught up in life and death struggles. My magic eight-ball isn’t so sure…