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.

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?

DDC – Oh No

Hungover and aching, the DDC took the portal back to the Hold and spent a da,y recovering. Thorin spent time with his father, learning more of the Clan history as miners of gold and amber. Valenia and Caeluma went hunting, caught deer, and found more troll tracks. The evening drew in and everyone settled down.

In the early hours of the night came sounds of fighting and outrage from somewhere in the Hold. People began to rouse themselves and search the halls. Valenia was first on the scene, finding a large semi-translucent troll in the Chief’s study. It was in the process of murdering Bentane, the old Lord of the Hold – Thorin’s father. Purple-hued twisted shadows accompanied it and sprung to attack – striking down guards before seeping through cracks in walls to haunt the corridors while the shadows of fallen guards began to writhe and rise in turn to hunt more of the living.

The rest of the group began to catch up and tried to kill the creature, which had a twisted violet gem embedded in its chest. They hurt it, but not before it dropped the body in its hands and turned to try and kill Thorin in turn. It taunted him, called itself Vasselack and claimed the Circle had sent him to be the Clan’s death.

Outnumbered as more of the group arrived, the spectral troll turned and ran straight through the nearest wall as the tide of battle shifted against it. Out in the corridors, more guards fell in battle with the undead shadows, until Karkanna caught up and aided Kerne in slaying them.

The creature ran through the wall next to Kerne and attacked them to clear their path out. The rest of the group had to run around the halls to catch up but managed to get there in time to save Kerne from the same fate that had befallen Bentane. The shadows were all slain, but the troll was able to continue through the walls and out of the Hold. It disappeared into the night, leaving blood and pain behind it.

In the aftermath, as survivors were patched up and non-combatants checked, there was dismay. Kerne comforted Karkanna, and Valenia directed efforts until Thorin could compose himself. Bentane’s remains were transferred to a side chapel. Before the assembled survivors, Thorin and the DDC swore to avenge Bentane and to make sure that this threat was ended.

How to do that? Well that was the question.

DDC – A Quiet Interlude

A moment of quiet was needed after last week’s desperate battles – and with the discovery that all the known passes out of the area had been blocked with avalanches or rock falls the opportunity had to be seized. The promised airdock for House Lyrandar airships had yet to start construction, but the gnomes of House Sivis were able to at least get news from the outside world.

Caeluma spent a good portion of the week in meditation and contemplation of their path. When they emerged, it was to announce that they were setting aside the path of trickery and chance but embracing the protection of nature and growth – still within the pantheon of the Sovereign Host, just following a different focus.

This led to a need to get some new equipment, as well as wanting to see Coal and Odif again, and so the slumbering portal linked back to Windhaven was cajoled back into life – and the DDC went home.

Here, there was still snow, but it was more of a dusting than the magnificent glaciers they had grown used to. The streets were bustling and full of life, and there was shopping to be done! Caeluma headed for the beauticians – specialist magewrights as it turned out, with abilities to make unusual tattoos and alterations at a very reasonable set of prices alongside more traditional cutting of hair and application of makeup elements.

Kerne dragged Karkanna to the university and the library stacks to research the badges and signs picked off the trolls recently. They found names for the Circle of Rot and hints of links back to the Winter’s Knight. The lore drop recently in these pages essentially rounded out what was revealed. It gave some sense of the scale of what they might be facing.

Arwan went to find the local Jorasco storefront in the area and in between helping out assembled care packages and first aid kits for the Hold and its people. Valenia went in search of better equipment, and was eventually able to get an improved enchantment for her bow, as well as a mithral chain shirt.

Thorin relaxed and had a quiet read.

Introducing Arwan to the peculiarities of the DDC’s house led to some interesting moments – from the mimics making themselves known, to Tanglefinger sabotaging the sink in their bathroom, and the discovery of small flying dinosaurs nesting in the eaves of the roof.

Then, the night before they were due to go home, the DDC dragged Arwan to The Brazen Hydra for a night of drinking. Well, aside from Caeluma and Coal, who opted for a quiet evening at a restaurant together. Arwan didn’t have time to grab his mug of sobriety on the way out the door, and so for the first time had to try to keep up. He did rather well. He only fell out of his seat once, and there weren’t many spillages – unlike Thorin who got very drunk very quickly. Kerne and Karkanna seemed by contrast to handle their drinks well.

An extended game of darts didn’t cause any issues, though Valenia ended up sleeping under the table for half of it as the beer got the better of her. A raucous night was had by all – as witnessed by Caeluma and Coal, who saw the group streaking naked through the streets carrying Valenia. Rather than enquire, and largely to remove the memory of various flapping appendages, Caeluma and Coal went to the Clubhouse instead to have hot chocolate. There they found Odif asleep among his toys and tools, cuddling depictions of the DDC. They tucked him in, kissed him goodnight, and retired for the night.

Kerne and Karkanna were the only ones who woke in the DDC household in the morning without a hangover. The portal home awaited…

NPCs – Goblin Raiders

So here’s a new batch of NPCs/antagonists that a group might encounter – inspired by the uniform approach for guards and zombies recently, I spent an evening making a bunch of goblins with a similar look who could be raiders or part of a larger force.

I’ve made up here a sniper, a spellcaster, a spearcarrier, a skirmisher, and a general sneaker – all with a unified colour scheme and set of armour. It’s been fun to play around with the facial expressions and poses and I think that’s a big part of the draw.

There’s something about this set of facial features that makes me smile – its similar to some recurring sketch designs that I doodle on and off. In the meantime the unified designs of groups like this are also sparking scenario ideas, so that’s an added bonus given the number of times I wing encounters in my games.

As ever, feel free to download and use anything here – have fun!

DDC – Ice Trolls

Sunday’s game saw the group deciding on what to do about the revelation that trolls were moving in concert to disrupt life in the Hold’s territories. A week of scouting and research culminated in loud rumbling noises in the night, off in the distance and echoing across the valleys. With no visible source of that noise, the group decided to investigate reports of activity at an old mill site to the north west. Various lures of slaughtered animals were bringing predators down from the mountains to more civilised areas – and the mill was near the main pass towards the mines.

Before they did though, Kerne asked that they all go to Flower Town, taking Karkanna and Loris with them for a party and celebration. Kerne also had a surprise that they wanted to share. It took some persuasion to get Karkanna to acquiesce to the idea. She had spent a lot of the week fussing over Kerne while they recovered from their earlier injuries. A deputation was needed in the end to back Kerne up, like children asking if their friend could come out to play.

The group made their towards the pass to the north east leading to Flower Town. In the early stages of the approach, however, the DDC encountered four ice trolls near a rough stone circle. The two sides rushed at each other, with Caeluma being badly hurt in the initial rush. A desperate struggle raged within the snowy pass and despite the trolls’ regenerative health, the group was able to whittle down the threat in reasonably short order. However, before they could draw breath, the mound at the centre of the stone circle began to shift and collapse as something large dug its way out.

Weary, hurt, and after a rapid expenditure of energy, the DDC was shocked to see the misshapen form of a dire troll digging its way out of its grave, disturbed by all the activity. Caeluma fell beneath its claws twice, being hastily revived in the heat of battle, while Thorin went toe to toe with the creature. Blow after blow were traded, and time to heal up was bought with a frantically-cast banishment spell.

The creature’s tenacity was such that the group thought they had killed it several times, only to have it rear back up and strike again and again. In the end they were able to bring a massive flame to bear that overwhelmed it, and this time the remains caught and were consumed.

A search of the fallen trolls revealed another set of bone and iron brooches, symbol of the Circle of Rot as previous research had revealed. Within the now tumbled mass of the stone circle, a battered satchel contained gold coins, and a beautiful gold and silver brooch with the Amberhammer crest, were found. This was later identified as an old Amberhammer treasure that had been used to identify an agent of the Hold. A painting of a a previous clan queen showing her wearing it was found in the library.

The main pass itself was found to be impossible to use – the loud noise in the night had been an avalanche. Fragments of burned stone still bore the imprint of glyphs of warding that had been deliberately placed and triggered to cause it.

Returning to the Hold, and when all were relaxing and wounds tended, Karkanna asked what the surprise was going to be – which was when Kerne produced rings that they had commissioned, and asked Karkanna to marry them. We left the session there with a grand celebration and very few dry eyes in the house.

NPCs – Outcasts

There’s an aspect of fantasy world storytelling that appeals that focuses on characters caught between two worlds or cultures – the idea of the halfbreed who may or may not be accepted by either of their species or cultures. Sometimes this leads them to dark places, sometimes to brighter places. They can be an allegory or not, depending on the whim of the author or the player (who may have picked their character traits for some trait that fitted their concept)

So with that in mind, here are two new NPCs I’ve modelled in HeroForge and toyed around with in DNDBeyond: Rufen Hagspawn and Arianna Hytheknot.

Rufen is a custom lineage involving trolls and hags as the concept – very much inspired by the current DDC adventures. He is a barbarian with distinctive broken ram’s horns sprouting from his brow, who appears brutish but is unexpectedly charismatic. He may not be schooled in the ways of civilisation, but he has an uncommon amount of common sense (or wisdom). Even so, that wisdom is largely concerned with where and when to swing the great axe he carries. He is largely shunned wherever he goes, but he has managed to bargain for a trinket that once per day allows him to disguise himself as a human or similarly sized individual. This allows him to access shops and taverns without automatically being chased out of town as a monstrous abomination.

Arianna is a tiefling druid who lives by the docks of a town, preserving the wildlife and plantlife at the interface between civilisation and the natural world. The rats and vermin act as her eye and ears as she sells charms to sailors and potions to housewives. On occasion she’ll be asked to patch up someone caught by footpads, or on the run from the watch – and she turns any coin from that towards making her corner of the world a little calmer and safer for the youngsters. The horns on her head may make for an arresting sight but she finds it a good way to test people by not mentioning it, and pretending to be completely unaware of them when questioned.

Both are good examples of border characters that live on the edges of society and who may well be living in shades of moral greyness. How they react to player characters may well depend on how they in turn are treated on first contact or in how the actions of the characters are reported to others.

Rufen is more of a lone wolf individual who might eke out a living as a hunter, or who might be a mercenary encountered with a bunch of bandits who use his hardiness and regenerative powers to break defences. Arianna is much more of a socialised individual who works within or on the fringes of a society – the docks which inspire her second name. A hythe is an an old english word for a dock, usually on a river – so a hytheknot may be what secures a rope from a boat as it rests in its mooring – or maybe there’s a more sinister aspect related to punishment for pirates.

As ever, feel free to download these PNG format graphics and use them for your own VTTs – and if you do, drop me a note and let me know what they get up to – or how else you’ve used them.

NPCs – Shifter Gang

In the world of Eberron, one of the species that can be played, or that can be encountered are the Shifters. It is said that they are descended from lycanthropes in the distant past, inheriting the ability to manifest animalistic traits that can boost their reflexes or strength or other senses. Often mistrusted by others – in part due to horror stories of their savage ancestors – a shifter is often welcomed into the world of gangs and other criminal factions.

Having started to make some default guards for my games, I thought I should also look at some tokens for their counterparts and created three individuals who may be encountered together, on their own, or as part of a wider and more diverse group. As with the other entries in this series, they have been made using the HeroForge website, and I’ve shared them on there for others to use the models as they may please.

I’ve not gone for any kind of colour scheme or common theme, but have tried to show different ways that the shifter abilities might manifest. The first has the face of a wolf and claws on their fingertips and is advancing to attack. The second wields a machete and is dressed in a more swashbuckling style that contrasts with his clawed fingers, animal like teeth, and wolf-like legs. The third is more subtle – pointed ears and teeth, and claws even while clutching cleavers and having a more passive stance.

I’m thinking of using these in the Wednesday group sessions which are set in, on, and above the streets of Sharn – a magitech city of impossible towers, suspended walkways, flying transports, and hidden secrets. I think these would be a good match for the tone and power level of that group as a general threat to be stumbled over. Perhaps they might be sent to rough the group up if they annoy the wrong person, or they might be in a dark alley, lying in wait.

This is how I’ve set the tokens to appear on the virtual maps, but the circular tokens above could work just as well, depending on your tastes. Feel free to download and use these PNG images if you like – and if you do, consider letting me know how you challenged people with them – or if they became character tokens instead.

DDC – Troll Fight

We picked up the story from last time with the group making their way across a frozen lake towards a burning trading post. Battle was joined with a group of four trolls, and at the end of the last session, Kerne had slain one of them with a deluge of acid.

This week, the remaining trolls ran for cover, running around or into the trading post, forcing the DDC to pursue them. This was the moment they found that the trolls had left concealed bear traps in their paths – a level of preparation and use of tactics not typical of troll encounters. They lost sight of two of the trolls, but the third could be seen through the trading post’s windows. Valenia and Caeluma therefore focused their efforts on shooting into the burning building with varying degrees of success.

Arwan made his way inside in pursuit and was charged by the troll he found in there – and despite weathering powerful blows stood his ground. Valenia finished the troll off with acid-infused magical arrows and just for a moment all was quiet. Arwan extinguished the largest fire in the building by summoning water – and then the other two trolls reappeared.

They had climbed onto the roof undetected and crawled over the top to try and flank the group when the damaged roof collapsed. One leapt clear and landed next to Kerne – the other fell through and landed next to Arwan. In the blink of an eye Kerne was on the ground and bleeding out, with the troll preparing to eat them. Caeluma and Arwan fought the other troll with magics that severed limbs and dropped it quickly.

Overhead map view of a burning wooden building in a snowy forest landscape on the edge of a frozen lake. Its the setting for the encounter described in this blog entry.

Valenia risked the irate troll’s claws to heal Kerne, saving their life but getting her back sliced open in the process. Inside the trading post, the fallen troll’s separated body parts began to fight on independently. For a few moments, as fast as the DDC knocked the trolls down, they or their body parts got back up and continued fighting. Then Arwan called on the gods to summon a flame strike from the heavens. The column of fire punched down through the broken roof. It incinerated the troll remains in moments. Outside, Valenia and Thorin finished off the remaining attacker with acid.

In the aftermath, the group took a short rest and investigated the wreckage. There was nothing of any worth remaining in the ruins, but each of the trolls wore two tokens. The first was a bone and iron brooch in the shape of a humanoid skull. The second was a crude silver fist wrought in silver on a silver chain.

Valenia’s investigations also found deliberately dumped animal and human remains. Blood and gore were placed to form a lure to the area, and based on the blood on the troll remains, they had been the ones placing the lures. They mirrored the gore piles found earlier in the forest trails. The DDC decided to return to the Hold to plan and research their next move.

I’ve included the map here, as well as the zipped file of the Dungeon Alchemy base file, jpeg, and text file with dynamic lighting, door, and window location details: tradingpost attack.zip

Map – Dragon Skull Pass

I started showing boy s the basics of Dungeon Alchemy while we were away so that he could design the shrine that his character Caeluma is founding at Amberhammer Hold. He’s got a basic layout sorted out, and will now need to do the tweaks and nudges to the decor and props to finish it all off.

This has brought me back to making some random maps to toy with some more of the new features in the recent update, which has led to this mixture of landscape and hidden crypt dominated by the wedged skull of a long-dead dragon:

overhead map view of a snow-covered winter pass through mountains with a dragon's skull wedged at the bottom and a room and corridor carved out in one side of the valley.

Entry to this snowbound pass through the mountains is under the skull wedged above the southern end of the pass. A small crypt or shrine has been tunnelled out of the mountain rock, with its entrance at the top of a rocky slope covered in ice and snow. Danger might come from within that structure, or from bandits on the clifftop or even on top of the skull. Perhaps a yeti has taken up residence in the pass, or a troll preys on the unwary.

As usual I’ve put together a zipfile of the original .dam file, the exported jpeg and the text file containing lighting information – and that is included in this blog: dragonskullpass.zip

If you use this for anything, please let me know – I’d love to hear how you used it.