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!
Today’s work was more reactive than I’d have preferred, but was ultimately successful where it counted. Of far more interest was our ability to synchronise our diaries to have another session of the Librarians’ D&D Game. The search for the people creating shapeshifting creatures disguised as books led the Morgrave University Team for Text Extraction and Retrieval (MUTTER) to the Great Bazaar in Sharn and a large bookseller’s tent tucked in a corner loaded with a variety of nearly new and definitely pre-loved books and scrolls.
Wilhelm distracted the owner, an intimidating lady of striking appearance in long flowing robes and a headscarf, with money and the offer of a drink. He was horrified to be taken up on the offer with a brusque “ten minutes then”. The owner’s brother then was kept busy as the rest of the team browsed the many strange travelogues, religious texts, tomes of poetry, hunter’s guides, and books of erotica and tried to find anything unusual.
Some sneaked round the back and crept through to the storage area, and saw that the bookseller was using a mimic as a coinbox, while Rhogan claimed to have been bitten by a book to see what the reaction was (he got offered a discount on the book he was holding)
Wilhelm’s disastrous attempts at striking up a conversation were initially somewhere between fascinating and confusing so he did at least manage to distract the owner, but in the end she made her excuses and returned to the market. Rhogan was able to distract her briefly so that the rest of the group could scatter, but not before a clumsy foot wrong by Xander accidentally collapsed the tent with staff and Catriona still inside.
The group eventually managed to make their way all together back at the pub where Wilhelm had stayed – and that was where we ended.
There was a lot of laughter, and a lot of distraction both in and out of the game. A good evening…
The circumstances of Rufen’s conception and birth are both complicated and not for the faint of heart – involving as they do the wily troll hunter called Irreck, a lonely hag, and the non-linear nature of time in the Feywild. The true story of what took place between Irreck and Gertha Mudberth seems to elude all parties involved – but what is known is that Irreck set out in search of the Daughters of Sora Kell alone, and returned with the three sisters of the Circle of Rot, and a full-grown son.
Rufen is a mighty barbarian warrior, and is largely ruled by his angry passions – but he is also a skilled smith, and is less awed or hurt by the fires needed to ply that trade than his father and uncles. He was therefore happy to support Urash’s dreams of armed trolls and took over the old mill on the north east border of the Amberhammer lands. He converted it into his forge, and began producing spears and armour plates as well as arrow heads for the rare few trolls who learned to hunt like his father.
Something of his fey ancestry wars with his trollish blood. He doesn’t heal as fast as his father, but he is able to change his appearance to something more acceptable to civilised eyes and can speak to the animals of the woods.
While not as physically imposing as his troll relatives, his barbarian rage and following of the Path of the Totem does make him able to shrug off damage from fire and magic as easily as he does physical wounds. He channels his anger into ferocious feats of combat that tends to leave all opponents dead or fleeing before him.
With that experience, he willingly launched himself into the thick of combat with the DDC and tasted defeat for the first time at the hands of Valenia. He was left among the wreckage of his forge, stripped of his favourite weapons and armour, and bound for his father to find.
Enraged and shamed, Rufen has vowed to get revenge and retrieve his stolen treasures and has dropped the minor illusions that gave him a gentle appearance.
He is now forging a new axe, channelling his hate and the fell magics of his aunts into a weapon that he intends to bring to the necks of the adventurers as swiftly as he can. He cannot, however, use his old forge. His father has summoned him back from the place that he had claimed, and now he has had to make use of what he can assemble in the icy swamps he now inhabits. The Circle of Rot see his smithing talents as too valuable to leave out in the wild and have drawn him closer.
And there, perhaps, lies the beginning of the downfall of the Circle, for Rufen unknowingly carries a token of Deadeye Alice. It was planted within his clothing by Kerne while he was unconscious and the wily Annis Hag now knows where he is. By extension, she can now make some very good guesses at where his family is and Thorin Amberhammer bears the token she originally created for his father, Benten Amberhammer.
Stories turn and retell themselves over and over in the Feywild. The story of betrayals and the deaths of trolls at the hands of dwarves may be about to begin again. The one wrinkle? The Draconic Prophecies have marked one of the DDC and fate may not be as solidly cast as Alice believes it to be. Time will tell.
Today’s map is the battleground so recently fought over by the DDC and the trolls – a forge by the side of a frozen lake, surrounded by trees. I wanted to create the sense of a place that was in use for some time, if not always by the same people. In this instance this is done through an unmade bed, furniture, a wash stand, equipment outside, a snowman near the stumps of felled trees, little things like that.
When I made the map I wasn’t quite sure how the encounter was going to run – in fact, thinking about it I don’t recall really having any encounter details in mind. I was focused instead on just creating a scene and playing with some new settings in an update. Once it was done I just needed to expand the edges out a bit in case my players wanted to run around the building or something.
So here it is. The trolls were mostly inside, apart from an ice troll hidden inside the snowman. The adventurers arrived from the south (the bottom of the map) and concealed themselves in the trees while they planned what to do. It could have gone any direction from here, but in the end it devolved into a mass brawl outside the door and involved fireballs and chaos bolts, keen archery and very hungry trolls. This meant that most of the detail inside the forge wasn’t seen during the encounter itself until they broke in to ransack it later.
As usual I’ve put together a zipfile ( winterforge2.zip ) with the graphic above and the text file with lighting and boundary details for Roll20 should you want to use it.
There’s always going to be a need for generic border fort type maps found out in the wilderness in tabletop games. It could be an official stop-over, or somewhere holding loot or an item that needs retrieving. It could be the headquarters of someone the adventurers need to meet, or indeed to steal from, or kill. It could also be a place overrun by bandits, or abandoned and then haunted.
So while playing with some of the newer (to me) features around painting in objects and turning off object collision to merge items (like rocks), I came up with a small single-storey fort next to a mineshaft. Some of the rocks nearby contain seams of some sort of metal, and the surrounding swamp-land is frozen over in the depths of winter. I set the time of day as being late afternoon, with the sun starting to get low, and tweaked the light levels so the snow and ice weren’t quite so dazzling as some of the earlier versions.
The building itself has an entrance courtyard that is open to the air and has both a barracks and an armoury either side of a wide entrance hall. That hallway leads to both a treasury and a dungeon, with a kitchen and a rookery for communication with the outside world nearby. I wanted the feel to be of somewhere that could hold items such as local taxes for collection, as well as hold prisoners taken locally until they can be picked up and removed to a proper prison.
I’ve made a zip file as usual (border fort.zip) containing the jpeg above and the text file containing grid and lighting instructions for Roll20 and I hope you find it useful. This map has also been published in the Dungeon Alchemy Steam Workshop under the name DaOrribleDM. Have fun!
It seemed like it wasn’t going to make it, but here we are with a screeching halt to the headaches, sinus pains, and tension headaches as various targets and goals were hit, and we had a massive rainfall that seems to have cleared some of the excess pollen for now. I’ve just had a nice relaxing session of shooting things in Destiny with boy s and Lady B and now to wind down before bed I’ve just had this wonderful mischief maker crawl out from behind the sofa and demand money with genteel menaces
Welcome to Mrs Hibbert, a fey goblin who wears dark sunglasses against the day’s brightness, and probably has a couple of ogres or hobgoblins standing just round the corner to loom when she clicks her fingers. She’s a lady of local standing from a well-known family, and she’ll brook no nonsense or any mess on her freshly-cleaned carpets. Now just leave your pocket change in the ashtray there on the way out the door, and we’ll be seeing you soon.
So, I guess I made up a small business-goblin who rules her family with an iron fist inside her velvet gloves, and who is definitely, positively a legitimate member of the business community – or her money back. I sense a wonderful new contact for one of my adventures that I’ll be keeping in my back pocket.