Quiet Day – Muffled Explosions

I took today off in advance because I had a feeling I’d be tired from the journey back home – and I’m glad I did as it was all very draining. So, to the accompaniment of Lady M spreading terror and chaos over various voice and Teams calls as she worked from home, I pootled around. Well, almost. Without fail there was a minor hiccup with the app that the cub uses for his bus tickets so I was pressganged into an emergency school run. A clearly not impressed cub was duly dropped off and I returned home to make cuppas and ensure that Lady M had something to eat while she worked.

decorative picture of an otter sitting on a wire mesh at the end of a log over some water. It is slightly turned to look over its shoulder to the viewer's left

One of the things I did was restart playing Halo Infinite’s campaign. I fancied a gentle romp as I hadn’t played it in ages and have been pressing rather hard on Destiny’s story recently, so I started it on Easy mode. I’m glad I did as some of the skill honing I’ve been doing in the other game translated rather pleasantly into a fun side trip into a very different space opera. By far and away the most fun moment was realising just how cleverly modelled the grappling line used by the hero is.

I channelled my inner Spider-Man and found that momentum allowed me to swing around and up a tall building onto the roof of a tower. That’s where I found a hidden secret – the IWHBYD Skull which unlocks rare incidental dialogue. This made me happy for all sorts of nostalgic reasons. I used to play a lot of Halo3 with friends, and collecting the skulls became a group activity as some of them only appeared on higher difficulties. Those who were better at it helped carry the others along through the game, and then transferred that knowledge to others in turn. This was all very early days of the internet and online gaming and I have a lot of fond memories of those evenings.

It’s been a nice change to play in a slightly different way and enjoy some nostalgia – I suppose I should get ready for the rest of the week now… Oh, and just because I’ve still got some photos of the day, here’s another one of the otters – they really were incredibly cute.

Oh, There Was An Adventure

So amid the tech issues on Sunday, we did manage to get some story started – and the group began the hunt for trolls seen attacking a nearby trading post on the Southern pass. As they made their way in the direction of the trading post they began to notice that there were less sounds of birds and general wildlife. Then they began to find more and more traces of blood and gore scattered among the trees and could smell smoke.

Sepia-toned map of the closer surroundings of the Amberhammer Hold showing hills, mountains, rivers, lakes and so on

Caeluma took to the air to scout around. In the distance, the trading post could be seen, situated between the trail and a frozen over lake. In the woods nearby there was smoke from a fire. The group decided to loop around the nearby smoke source and approach from across the frozen lake.

They had to move slowly to avoid slipping. The DDC did however manage to make their way across without any mishaps. They’d hoped to approach quietly, but were spotted by four trolls when they were still a good sixty or seventy foot away.

Unable to immediately close, the group used spells and missile weapons to pick away at the nearest trolls – and were surprised when one of them returned fire with their own bow.

One of the trolls took the brunt of the attack and ended up being entirely melted by Kerne in an explosion of acid. They watched in horror as it fell apart, limbs struggling to fight on even as they fell away. Two of the remaining trolls dove for cover – one behind rocks and the other back into the burning trading post. The fourth began to pull back as the first two members of the DDC managed to get to the shore.

And that’s where we left the action

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.

NPCs – Town Guards

I’ve been playing round with designing tokens for more generic non player characters – in particular this week I’ve been toying with themed and uniformed groups that the DDC and others are likely to encounter. To cut a long story short, here’s some tokens for two sets of guards for your virtual table. Rather than do a portrait and token, I’ve instead done two different styled tokens in PNG format – one a circled portrait, the other a top-down view of the figure that preserves transparencies.

This first one is a half-elven city guard in chainmail and armed with a buckler shield and hammer. His yellow half-cloak is as much a badge of office as a protection from the elements while on patrol. I’m not sure which faction these guards will be connected to, but I can repaint the model with different schemes. These are not bad people – they’re just doing their job.

This second token is for the newly-reformed guards of Amberhammer Hold. They’re dressed for the cold winter heights as well as the dark below in colours that reflect the yellows of the amber fields and the glint of gold in the mines. They wield war hammers as they keep the peace, and bear battle axes for times of war.

I’ve enjoyed starting to make these – there will be more

NPCs – Trolls? In My Swamp?

Depending on your mythology or writer of choice, trolls are often depicted as near mindless beasts – despite the archetypal introduction of a troll under a bridge extorting coin from passers by. One of the things I love about the stories by Terry Pratchett is the growing and evolving troll characters – for example Detritus the Splatter working as hired muscle and then becoming a stalwart of the City Watch. Then we have the story of his courting of with Ruby, the troll of his dreams. Its a celebration of everyone having a story, no matter their background.

In the new DDC adventure, trolls are looming large, and not just in height. The lands that comprise the surrounds of the Clan Amberhammer Hold have seen conflict between dwarves and trolls for generations. During the Last War, the trolls were pushed back. This was in no small part due to the protective militias that Thorin helped set up. Now though, in the aftermath of the coup by the mindflayers and duergar of the Cult of the Triumphant Dead, many of the old forts and defences have fallen – and signs of trolls have been found by scouts to the West.

Here are three troll heroes who are looking to reclaim lands lost to the dwarves: Urash The Proud, Irreck The Stalker, and Dhumish Crackleg

Urash The Proud has assembled his half-plate armour by hand, scavenging and bending the materials scavenged from battlefields into added protection as he leads his fellows to raid and conquer the mountain valleys. Brutal and efficient in combat, he wields a huge claymore in one hand and is known to delight in setting ambushes.

Irreck The Stalker hunts lonely paths at night, picking off lone travellers or unwary shepherds before disappearing back into the gloom. The massive glaive he uses was taken from the first knight of the realm who tried to stop him – and he takes it everywhere with him.

Dhumish Crackleg was warped by magics lingering on the old battlefields, and lumbers along with deformed limbs, a crocodilian tail, and a row of spikes growing along his spine. He lurks in lakes and marshes and takes lone prisoners to slowly break and cook in pieces. Occasionally he might ransom someone back, but they might not be returned in one piece, or even all at the same time. His feverish vitality means that even if he loses limbs, they continue to fight on if he does not immediately press them back into place.

I feel a plot coming on…

Return of the DDC

For some reason we had pretty much every possible technical difficulty under the sun – and yet we succeeded in having and streaming a new session. We picked up on the activities of the DDC after a break – for them – of three months. This purely by chance nearly matches the real world difference in time but then we’ve all been busy. A new map of the Amberhammer Hold was made and updated… and nearly crashed everyone’s machines – so I’ll need to get on to photoshop this week and play around with resolutions to reduce the file size. Fortunately we won’t need to use it often, but it would be nice to have it as a framing device for quiet moments.

So – what had everyone been up to?

Sepia-toned fantasy map showing a mountainous area with various rivers and lakes. A shield-like icon in the middle is designated as AmberHammer Hold. Various other markings suggest other landmarks, but are not labelled
The AmberHammer lands – Made with Inkarnate.com

The newly-installed Lord Thorin Amberhammer had been busy organising patrols and the defences of his lands – as well as welcoming delegates from various Dragonmarked Houses with an eye to business opportunities. Being placed on the Aundair/Breland borders puts the AmberHammer Hold in a useful position for many traders. Thorin was particularly pleased to close a deal with House Lyrandar to rent them space for a small skyship dock that traders could use.

Arwan had devoted time to setting up a school and to helping heal and look after people in Flower Town. While not a confident speaker, his actions in The Reclamation (as some are calling it) and his humble life have brought him acceptance and at least nodding acquaintance with many of the villagers and traders.

Valenia went out to the mountains to hunt and reconnect with nature, as well as watch over the newly cleared lands. While patrolling she cleared or maintained various potential nature hazards to keep the passes clear, and identified a previously untouched richly stocked lake that could host a fishery if developed. She also found traces of what could have been trolls moving back into the area, but some of the signs and tracks looked…strange.

Kerne spent time working in Flower Town and researching various things with more of a degree of secrecy than usual. She also worked on commissioning something but what that is has not yet been revealed.

Caeluma’s focus was on establishing a general shrine and welcome lodge near the entrance to the Hold where weary travellers could ease their feet, grab some food, and give thanks to the Sovereign Host for their safe arrival. In contrast to the solid stones around them, this building is made of sturdy wood and bright plaster on its stone footings. A statue commemorating the fallen dragon Killiklik also graces the shrine. Caeluma’s faith and devotion showed a side to all that had not been as apparent to their companions while adventuring – even if their mischief also brought them to teach the children and young of heart how to pull off better pranks. As a reward of favour by the gods, two otters rescued by Caeluma took to them, and began to happily play and seek them out. Their home had been crushed and destroyed by what seemed, from the tracks left behind, to be a wandering troll.

Also during this time, Coal and Odif came to visit, allowing everyone to catch up with each other. The love between Caeluma and Coal continued to bloom – and when Coal announced that he needed to return to Fairhaven to look after their various businesses and concerns there – and return Odif to school – Caeluma asked Coal to marry them. Amid much celebration and affirmation he accepted, and they brought everyone in to a grand group hug. Arwan was quickly pulled into it to, despite his protests.

And then a guard ran in, calling out that there were reports of trolls at one of the trading posts…

One Shot Part Two

The chaos continued this weekend, as the reverse heist D&D caper hit the point where the plan met reality – and the silliness was wonderful. A fairy sorceror, a harengon monk, a human rogue, a halfling wizard, and a tiefling bard made their plans to deliver presents as snows fell on the neighbourhood. Nobody made the Christmas connection, or if they did they didn’t mention it – but that was fine.

All focus was on delivering presents to Valenia’s parents for the first part of the session. They were staying at a guest house, and so a distraction was needed. Between sandwiches from the pub and Cupcake’s non-stop babbling, all eyes were distracted while Fearne, Ignis, and Guiness crept upstairs, evaded a tabaxi reading in a window seat, and broke into the correct room to deliver presents.

One successful drop-off later, the group made their excuses and headed out into the gathering gloom of the evening. They hadn’t managed to get the key from Coal, so some old-fashioned breaking and entering was called for. First, however, Cupcake made friends with the mimic disguised as a bench in the front garden. Bribery and a distressing amount of rabbit droppings left a cheerful mimic promising to not raise the alarm while they wandered around the garden.

By hook and proverbial crook they made their way up to a first floor balcony, and found a way in to Thorin’s bedroom. The only sound came from a chest in the corner which was gently snoring, so everyone was very careful to tiptoe to deliver the first present and then out into the hallway.

The whole session followed a similar pattern of bypassing sleeping mimics, a sleeping wolf, and dealing with a prank-trap of a wasps nest over a door. The group met Tanglefinger too – the boggle who shares the house with the DDC – and as they framed their intrusion as part of a prank, they were able to persuade him to help and again, not raise the alarm.

Having reached the top floor and dropped off the final present on Kerne’s bed, they then escaped by way of ropes down from the top balcony – well, apart from Fearne, who fell most of the way and broke his leg. They all then hobbled back to the Clubhouse for payment and healing – and a bonus present delivery to Odif of a set of mini automatons modelled after the DDC.

All in all, a gentle and funny romp was had – with lots of laughter and silliness – what a lovely way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Next week, hopefully, the DDC return…

NPCs: A Coven of Trolls?

I’m not sure if these will turn up in either of the games I’m running at the moment, but I like the design and it wouldn’t be too difficult to fit them into the ongoing story on either front. I was playing around in HeroForge and was looking at trolls when the idea came to see if I could make them look like the sort of hags that the DDC had already encountered – there’s a subplot involving Kerne’s sister and rules for custom lineages that give ideas for those sworn to or in the company of hags to begin to take on their qualities and appearances – notably horns as a sign of power.

And so with some tweaking of faces and bodies and scratching of heads I came up with these lovely individuals – and I’m still undecided as to whether they are hags (in the D&D monster sense) or trolls who achieved hagdom and formed their own coven.

So welcome to Granny Riptooth, Nanny Gutrun, and Missy Lambrot – who may well be gathering together the scattered trolls defeated by Thorin’s clan during the Last War to contest the area again. I haven’t decided if they are aligned with the Winter’s Knight as an ongoing threat, but it would fit the themes of the story and the pattern of past encounters. I’m really pleased with how these models have worked out – there are more detailed schemes out there, but this works for virtual counters and inspiration for the games.

Well, I think we’ve all learned a valuable lesson about what you’ll find if you go down to the woods today…

Little Trouble in the Big City

We returned to the Sunday Dungeons and Dragons game this week, with a one-shot set back in the DDC’s home town. As a tonal respite from all the epic adventures, I asked everyone to come up with younger characters at the beginning of their careers who frequented Coal’s Club House – and was not disappointed with the range and diversity of very silly people who appeared.

Coal, as long-time readers and watchers may know, started as a random rogue warforged who was forcibly adopted by the group after catching him picking their pockets. He always kept as low a profile as possible, but stepped up to defend his friends and, eventually, loved ones in their adventures. He eventually quit as an active member of the group to look after Odif, the kobold adopted by Caeluma and Thorin. He set up his clubhouse to provide social support and education for youngsters in the area and as revealed in today’s session also uses it as the headquarters of a small thieves’ guild.

Each of the characters are regulars at the club house – just starting out in their adventuring careers – a halfling wizard, a human thief, a harengon monk, a tiefling bard, and a fairy pyromaniac. They each have a minor magic item and a strange trinket to their names and were gathered by Coal for a “reverse heist”.

A local festival is due soon, celebrating parents, and so Coal wants to make sure that Valenia’s parents mysteriously receive gifts. If something appeared for Odif then that would be a bonus. The group is therefore hired to find and deliver these presents in such a way that the recipients don’t know where they came from. In addition, Coal gave them a series of objects to leave on the pillows of each of the DDC members. The group are to leave as little evidence of their presence in breaking in to the DDC’s home to leave the items. Damage costs will be deducted from the money on offer for the job. Anyone hurt will be treated and the cost deducted from their money. If the Watch get called, all payment is waived.

So today’s session was dominated by the group finding things to give as gifts and failing to steal the key to the DDC’s house off Coal. There was a lot of laughter, the playing of bagpipes, threats of arson, and the realisation that these youngsters were being treated very gently by local merchants. Slowly, a plan began to emerge as to how to conduct the reverse heist:

So – what’s the worst that could happen? There’s a plan to distract Valenia’s parents who are at a nearby hostel and sneak their presents to them. So far so good. The real challenge will be the DDC’s four-storey house which, rumour has it, is home to a number of mimics. I opened up a virtual piece of paper for the adventurers, and this was their group effort.

I can’t wait to see what happens next week…

A Very Long Friday Night

We normally stream a game of Destiny for a couple of hours on Friday nights. It’s usually only a couple of hours and largely consists of us goofing around.

Every now and then, we have a crack at some of the harder content and this Friday we did a run at a Legendary mission. By and large these throw more opponents with tougher armour and health, as well as some other factors to make things more difficult. The in-game rewards are higher, sometimes it progresses the story, and then there’s some fairly niche bragging rights in limited circles.

The biggest pain last night was the two main boss battles, in which we had only one revive each. This led to a lot of swearing and repeat attempts at these choke points – but we won.

At gone 3am

Needless to say, I’ve been a bit tired today, but we did go out to a coffee place and browse some books. So an attempt was made at being part of civilised society too.

Needless to say, I’m having an early night ahead of tomorrow’s D&D game