Gnolls. Those hyena-like hunters of the fringe. Many see them as scavengers and cowards.
Gnolls have often been lumped in with many of the other humanoids that prowl the wastes Beyond the Wall. This would be a mistake. Unlike the goblinoid races, which spend much of their time in inter-clan warfare, gnolls packs are highly cooperative. They are are experts at the ambush. Combine this with pack hunting tactics, and you have a highly effective hit and run force. This is often see by civilized races as cowardly, but gnolls just see it as wearing down your opponent for later.
Most of the tactics are used to accumulate slaves. Gnolls are consummate slavers. Those that are not judged strong enough to trade with other packs, or sell to the goblinoids or evil humans, are, of course, eaten. But, this is a last resort, as gnolls are a particularly greedy bunch. It is rumored that demi-human slaves can fetch a high price from the black ships of the Broken Coast.
Beware ye, those forlorn places. Indeed, for many an adventurer the last thing they hear is the eery laughter of the gnoll pack, before they pounce.
I was the perfect age when D&D hit the big time. For my 11th birthday I received the AD&D boxed set and a little something called the Official Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Coloring Book. I loved this box like a fat kid loves cake. I stayed up at night looking at it over and over. I didn't even have the guts to color in it, I didn't wan to mess it up.
Over 30 years later, there are still images in my head. A Bullette bursting through the ground, the party before the adventure. It has shaped how my D&D world is in my head.
Somewhere over the years through moves, etc it was lost to me.
But now, a wonderful gentleman over at Monster Brains has lovingly scanned in every page. I can print it off as many times as I want. My kids can color it. I can color it (now with photoshop).
At last, the internet was good for something.
Ogres, those largest of "black bloods" are not, in fact, related to other goblinoid races. They have a distinct language and culture, for lack of a better word.
Many of these solitary creatures live Beyond the Wall, in a small branch of the Widowfangs known as the Black Mountains for its ash covered peaks.
Ogres have a strange place in Imperial history. Befriended early by the tribes that would someday form the Empire, ogres helped shape early Imperial history. Ogres were used as shocktroops and even bodyguards. But, once imperial society had become more "civilized", Ogres became more and more marginalized.
The ogres that haunt the black Mountains now, are descendants of those former Imperial troops forced to settle north of the Empire.
They have become more brutal and barbaric than their ancestors, preying on any passerby, and even their own kind. But, rumor has spread south, of a larger, more powerful force, organizing these brutes into a cohesive force. Ogres may march once again. But this time against the Empire.
Gruffydd went to stand above the body of Newly. She looked like a log pulled from the fire. A burnt husk. The dwarf went to touch her, but she turned to ash.
All was quiet.
Miss Adventure began fumbling through the ashes. Gruffydd was about to say something when the halfing pulled something shiny from the mess. She lifted into the cold morning. It was a lrge seed, the size of an egg. Golden.
Without hesitation or a word, the party began hacking at the frozen ground. When they had a small pit, Miss Adventure gingerly placed the seed into the hole and began covering it up.
Next, they hauled as many of the stiff guardsmen's bodies onto the horses as they could, along with a hobgoblin standard, and a few black masks. Laden with gold and the dead, they returned to Wall...
From the moment they emerged from the Well, they felt hunted. Sometimes, by the very weather itself. The wind blasted them, the snows deepened, and always hounded by a feeling of dread. It took a day and night to find the ford. They had dared not try to make it past Ol' Nick at the bridge. Better to face the hornet things at the river crossing. The cold had kept the things inside, but the river was half frozen, making the crossing treacherous. Miss Adventure went under, but was rescued by Gildrid.
The river claimed the packhorse and most of the supplies.
The party was exhausted by the time the weather let up. It was cold but clear when they neared Wall, and the abandoned logging camp that was the home of one of the party's few friends, Newly, the Dryad.
Before Gruffydd, on point, crested the hill that ringed newly's hollow, he saw blood in the snow. It was frozen. A black splash like ink on crisp white paper. And the smell of smoke.
He signalled to the others to lay low and approach slowly.
What they saw battle sight. Bodies half buried in the snow. Blood, red and black, frozen in large pools. Blackened trees, including Newly's great Oak. But no movement. The battle was long over.
THe party scrambled down the hill. Some of the bodies were goblins, some the larger hobgoblins bearing the blue moon badge they had seen in the caverns. There were humans. A few wore the armor and uniforms of the Wall Guardians, but most had dark hunting clothes, and a few black hoods. There were also elves and halfling. The party knew them. They were members of a small adventuring party also operating out of Wall.
They were too cold and tired to try and give anyone a decent burial here. Better to wait and call out the garrison.
Then, a gasp. Miss Adventure had gone to check on Newly. The halfling stood next to the burnt remains of Newly's tree. There, half buried in the snow, was a blackened form. It had the shape of an old woman.
Quietly, hardly more than whisper, Miss Adventure spoke, "No......"
Chaos. Every member of the party not fighting was trying to put burning parts of their clothes out. The elves tried to stay back, and pelt the bugs with arrows, but they proved a tough target, skittering about. Everyone else tried to get in stabs between bursts of flame. The beetles that were left alone, passed by the party and down side halls. But, those were few.
When it was over, all had been wounded and burnt. The hallway still smoldered, and was full of the twitching corpses of bugs. Gustav was found trapped under the coach.
"Baby Dragons, huh?", Gruffydd said as he tossed the burnt wreck of furniture aside. The party shot Gustav murderous looks.
Gustav said nothing but scurried into the small room the beetles had been trapped in.
Gruffyd studied it. He then bent and began scrapping with his dagger on one of the stones near the base of the back wall. He pried it out. Then a stout wooden box.
It contained 500 electrum pieces!
The young cleric had a look that told everyone "I told you it was worth looking in here."
Burnt, bruised and bloodied they crawled to the level above. Rather than face the long rope climb to the surface, they were able to find the entrance Morey had discovered.
Outside, it was cold. It was dark. And the world was covered in snow.
Nemon put a torch near the bars. He almost lost his arm, when a huge claw made a swipe for him.
"Weasel", said Gruffydd. The group gave a collective shutter. They had witnessed the death of Dimzad, a former member of the group, to a giant weasel. They still remembered the lower of half of the dwarf's body walking around, spurting blood. The top half devoured by a weasel just like this one.
Everyone began notching arrows.
"You're not going to simply kill a caged animal?" Morey the young magician asked, horror in his voice. "It can't hurt us, locked away like that".
Just the then the giant lunged at the cage. The rusty bars gave way in a few spots.
"Shoot it! Shoot it!" Morey screamed.
It took way more arrows than anyone had hoped. The cage opened, Gruffydd rummaged through the cage. He was, like the rest of the party, already covered in blood, dirt, and soot. What was a little weasel crap too? He found a few undigested coins and a belt buckle. Probably from some hapless adventurer.
Miss Adventure yawned, "We should leave. It's getting late, and this level is empty."
"No it's not", came the retort from the cleric Gustav. "we still have that room full of baby dragons."
No one seemed interested in the room.
"Look", said Gruffydd. "I'm gonna find some other way out of this place that doesn't require me hauling my ass up that rope to the top of the well. Who's with me?"
The group began shuffling towards the door and to the stairs to the level above.
Nemon, the tough mercenary from the wars in the South, took pity on the young holy-man. "I'll go with you".
With the rest of the party waiting to move on, Nemon and Gustav made their way down the dark corridor to the doorway plugged up with the filthy divan. Nemon stood back a ways as Gustav clambered up the side.
He peered in. Still dark, except for the occasional flash on light, and the soft clicking that proceeded it. He held on with one had, while he rummaged through a bag. He pulled out a flask on torch oil. Then Gustav threw the flask through the small gap between the sofa and the top of the doorway. He heard the flask break.
Click-click. Nothing. Click-click.
There was a flash of light and an impact. The group down the hallway felt the concussion and the heat. Nemon was knocked off his feet. Gustav disappeared under the burning wreck of the divan.
The hall was engulfed in fire.
And movement. A least a dozen beetles, the size of large dogs, came pouring out of the room. Fire spitting out of their mouths...
Map in hand, the party left the room and headed for the as yet, untried door just outside the chamber. A quick listen revealed little.
It was unlocked. Gruffydd pushed the door open slightly. A sputtering torch lit a small room. In the center a small goblin ate something nasty from and earthen bowl. Another slept on a cot nearby.
The dwarf kicked the door open and the party barged in. The eating goblin had just reached for a spear next to him, when Gustav brained him with a mace. Miss Adventure buried a sword in the sleeping goblin before it stirred. The room was mostly empty, and smelled terrible. Nemon was pondering where he had smelled the odor before, when something stirred in the corner. That's when the group noticed the back wall had rusty bars along it's length. Something moved behind those bars. Something big....
The big hobgoblin roared and swung a huge curved blade at the party. Behind him, two goblins had been looking at a map on a table. They also sprang forward, blades drawn.
Nemon and Gruffydd took the big one, while the rest went after the goblins.
Gruffydd landed a hammer blow squarely on the hobgoblin's chest. He staggered. Nemon, shield bashed the boss further back, knocking the hob into the table, shattering it.
Meanwhile, the others wee picking off the goblins. Seeing his leader down, one of the goblins made a run for the door. he was struck by an arrow and a bolt, dropping him.
The winded hobgoblin was trying to stand when Gruffydd hit him again. The boss took it and slashed with his sword. The dwarf fell, but not wounded. The hobgoblin stood above the dwarf, ready to finish him. That's when Nemon's throwing knives hit him. He stepped back, knives sticking out of his orange chest. The hobgoblin leader dropped to one knee then fell forward.
Two golden torcs were found on the goblins along with shining silver gauntlets.
The big leader had a small bag tucked under his belly sash. It had 8 sizable gems in it. Most importantly, a map was found. Not a map of the Well of Souls, but of the Wall. Diagrams and movements were scrawled on it.
Someone was planning a coordinated attack on Wall soon...
Gildrid's arrow thudded into the guard's shoulder pinning him the door. He let out a small squawk, right before two crossbow bolts hit the hobgoblin in the throat and open mouth. He sagged down, still pinned to the door.
The party quickly moved down the hall. There was a door at the corner to the right. They ignored it. As quietly as they could they pried the guard form the door and set him down. The fighters crammed the doorway.
Gildrid cleared his throat, then while banging on the locked door, in hobgoblin said, "Hey, let me in!"
A loud voice replied, "Who in the Nine Hells do you think you are? Banging on my door! Grashnak, I'm going to stomp a new hole in yer face!"
THe door swung open to reveal the largest hobgoblin yet.
Behind the banner was hidden two boxes. One was made wood, heavy, bound with iron. The other with small, made of metal. Miss Adventure stepped forward as the party's only thief. She looked both boxes over, then carefully opened them. The larger of two was full of electrum. One hundred pieces to be precise. A collective gasp went through the group.
A faint blue crack of light appeared when the smaller box was opened. Inside, resting inside the velvet lining were two vials of the Tears of Shyalla. The blue light gave them away as the famed healing draughts they were.
Now the only thing left to investigate was the wooden door on the south wall. Torches were quickly extinguished, lest their light give them away when opening the door. A quick listen...
A tug. It was open.
Those with infravision could see a single shape at the end of the hallway. A guard for the door beyond. He a was an especially large hobgoblin, absently digging under one of his clawed fingers with a dagger.
Gildrid quietly stepped out. He took a breath, and aimed. Then released...
A bolt from Mellion's crossbow hit the goblin squarely between the eyes. Everyone held their breath as the goblin teetered back and forth before finally collapsing.
"Boom!" When the goblin dropped, the jar hit floor, engulfing the room and its junk in flames. Gruffydd quickly grabbed a tattered tapestry from the wall and began to beat at the fire. Nemon went to grab his water bottle, then remembered it was empty thanks to Mellion.
Miss Adventure watched the hall as Morey began an incantation.
Awhile later the fire was finally tamed. The party was now covered in soot along with goblin blood. Anything that might have been valuable in the room was destroyed. A search of the goblin, however, yielded a large gold necklace and well crafted leather armor under his rags. Miss Adventure took the armor as she was the only one small enough.
After a checking the room and surrounding passages for traps and secret doors, the party finally ventured towards the southern passage where most of the goblinoids had emerged. They moved cautiously.
The hallway made sharp turn towards the east that ended in an open door. Peering through the crack they saw what must of been barracks. The room was too tidy to be goblin living quarters. The cots were made, and the place was generally well kept. And it was empty.
On the western wall hung a banner....
The crazed barrel chested goblin was hacked in two by Nemon's sword. This prompted the rest of goblins to attack. They came in one big rush. Nemon stepped back into the cover of the southern passage. The goblin horde was forced to not only split their attacks, but become funneled down the hallways, thus reducing the effect of number.
Gruffydd and Nemon took the brunt of the assault, being at the front of their groups. That didn't keep the elves from firing over their backs. Two greenskins died this way, arrows in the face.
Next, the hobgoblins cam roaring in. One managed to stab Gruffydd with a jagged spear, but didn't do much damage before the dwarf's hammer caved in his face. Miss Aventure had crawled under the fight and was jabbing at ankles. Anyone goblin who fell was quickly dispatched.
Soon, only one hobgoblin was left. Surrounded, he gave a defiant war cry before Gustav crushed his skull.
It had been a bloody fight. The party had only been scratched, thanks to the carefully laid ambush, but they were covered in black blood. A quick search of the bodies yielded more electrum. Where was all of this rare coinage coming from?
Despite, Gustav's constant urgings to "go back and grab the dragons", the party headed down the south passage to a door. Shouting was heard behind it,
Nemon kicked the door in. It was a small, filthy room full of debris and junk. In its center stood a lone, dirty goblin. Instead of being frightened, he smiled and grabbed a sputtering candle. With this, he lit the top of jar at his feet. He picked up the flaming jar and cackled at the adventurers.
Two heavily armed and armored hobgoblins stepped into sight. Gildrid's arrow caught one just above his gorget. Black blood spewed all over his companion as he thunked to the floor. The remaining hobgoblin turned and fled. Mellion drew a bead on him, but the bolt from his crossbow went wide.
The two elves alerted the rest of the party. "He'll be back," said Gruffydd, "with friends."
After some discussion, it was decided to lay a trap at the intersection where before the secret door. Half of the party would hide on north, the other half to the south. The fighters, Nemon and Gruffydd would be in the front.
It wasn't long before a group of goblinoids came down the hall. There were two hobgoblins and 6 of their lesser kin. One of the goblins, a barrel chested larger creature, was sniffing at the air.
"This way!" he squeaked, and pointed the direction of the party. With a bellow he charged ahead of the rest.
Gruffydd was up and over the barricade before the goblins knew what was happening. Miss Adventure was atop the pile, swinging away with her short sword. Even Morey, who until then had held back from most of the frays, had waded in, stabbing with his dagger.
Gustav the cleric took a barbed spear to the stomach and retreated, to be replaced in the line by Nemon, whose heavy armor often meant he got to the fight last.
It was quick work with only Gustav and Gildrid hurt. The benevolent cleric decided to use a healing spell on himself, and left Gildrid to beg for a healing draught from Miss Adventure. The halfling begrudgingly handed it to him.
After loot was taken (more electrum), the party headed west, with a keen eye to the dark passage south. The passage ended with another junction north and south. At this intersection was a wall. On the wall was a carved relief of a bearded man with a hand held aloft. Light rays sprang from his hand, while his other held a staff. At his feet were skulls. A wizard? A god?
Gruffydd, the only dwarf in the party stroked his beard as he often did while deep in thought. He reached forward and touched the wall. With cloud of dust and a deep creaking the wall rose up, revealing a huge cavern beyond. It appeared to be a temple of sorts, with tall pillars and an alter.
Another fierce debate began. Some wanted to enter the temple. Some wanted to see what lay north or south. Gustav wanted to go back to where he believed his baby dragons dwelled.
Mellion and Gildrid, the two elves had been left behind at the barricade could the party's shouting from where they were. Apparently, they weren't the only ones.
A voice from the unexplored southern passage shouted, "What's all this, then?"
The question was asked in Hobgoblin.
Having searched the room, it was time to move on. The party had passed a corridor leading south on the way to the goblin guard room. It ended in a "T" junction with a corridor west and one east. The eastern route lead to a doorway blocked from the outside by a filthy and scorched divan. The way west had movement for those with infra-vision, Unfortunately, the torches burning for the Men in the group were obscuring said vision.
Miss Adventure was tasked with crawling up the dirty couch. There was a small opening at the top where the doorway wasn't blocked. Through the crack she saw bright flashes, almost like someone trying to start a fire with a flint. Then, there was a bright flash of fire. Whatever lurked inside, there was lots of scurrying about in the small room.
"Baby dragons." Gustav the cleric concluded. "It has to be. We should grab them."
"You don't know that," said Miss Adventure.
This only started more debate. More arguing.
Gildrid had been left to watch the junction. He heard a whirring noise, then felt the impact of a small barbed javelin hit his shield. "Hey! Someone's shooting at us!"
The strange barricaded room was quickly abandoned as everyone ran towards the commotion.
Another javelin flew by. A third thudded into Gildrid's shoulder. The elf dropped to his knees.
Gustav, Gruffydd and Nemor rushed towards the source of the missile fire. There, in the middle of a corridor junction, was a small barricade. It was made discarded furniture, boxes and the detritus of passing adventurers. Behind this, a gaggle of goblins waited.
Gruffydd's hammer smashed the goblin's head like an eggshell. The rest of the goblins inside hissed in alarm. The table they were gaming at, quickly went on its side, to act as makeshift cover. A fat one fumbled with a crossbow, trying desperately to load it. Mellion, still in the doorway fumbled with his own crossbow.
Gildrid, and Gruffydd charged from the doorway, while the rest of the party, further back moved up. Gruffyd, the dwarf, barreled into table, trying to smash it. Instead, the table slid back against the far wall, pinning the goblins.
A desperate struggle ensued, with both sides slicing at each other over the top of the table's edge. The goblins would pop up, and the adventures would try to whack their exposed heads, like some silly game. Except, this game was more deadly.
With everyone crowded around the table, Mellion decided it was time to take a shot with his crossbow. He closed one eye. His tongue sticking out the side of his mouth in concentration.
"Kwing!" went the crossbow string. "Twack!" right into Nemon's backside. Luckily it hit the fighter's water bag, emptying the contents on the dungeon floor. "Hey!," Nemon shouted, "Who's side are you on?"
Miss Adventure had by this time creeped around the side. She dispatched a distracted Goblin with a quick sword thrust. The others finally smashed, hacked and hewed the remaining goblins.
The small room seemed to have been a guard room. It contained the usual mishmash of untidy goblin life. The goblins themselves though, were curious. Their equipment was in good shape for goblins. Weapons, however crude, were polished. And strangest of all, they carried Electrum pieces!
The arguing about where to go next ended abruptly when the stranger entered the room. He was a young Man, dishevelled, in a blue robe. He was out of breath, "Rat......big rat...down that way..."
He pointed towards the caverns to the south.
"Yes," said Gruffydd, "we know. More importantly, where are you from?" The dwarf lifted his hammer.
"m-my name is Morey." He stood up straighter. "Morey the magian. I came seeking adventure, but my party was ambushed outside these caves...." His voice trailed off as his looked around, as if seeing the finished stone of Well of Souls for the first time.
"You're welcome to stay with us", said Nemon. "but know, we aim to delve deeper into this place. Tis, a dangerous, dark place, fraught with peril."
Morey simply nodded.
As they readied their gear to head down the dark stairs to the west, they heard the great warrior Laramine stagger and make sounds as if to speak. He shook violently until he was almost a blur. There was a loud "POP!" with a bright blue light. There, where Laramine stood, was Mellion the Elf, looking a bit surprised. He shouted "It worked!"
Everyone was a bit stunned. The Elf explained. "When I found out you had left Wall a few days ago, I wanted to follow, but I knew it would be suicide to follow alone in the wilderness. I went to see Professor Nodd. I asked if there was a way to transport me to you. He said there was, but it would not teleport me, but tranpose me with another. He asked if a I had something that belonged to one of you. I said I had "borrowed" one of Laramine's daggers. A handful of gold pieces later, here I am. By the way, what's "transpose mean? And where's Laramine?"
Gruffydd growled and hefted his gear. "Cmon! this way."
The party started down the steps. Morey leaned close to Miss Adventure, who was eating a apple, seemingly unsurprised by the recent happenings. "Does this sort of thing happen alot?," Morey asked her.
Miss Adventure shrugged, and threw the apple core behind her.
The stairs wound down and around. Gruffydd reached the landing first. There and the end of corridor was a slightly open door. A faint light shown through the crack. He looked behind him and whispered, Elves, up front".
Gildrid and Mellion tiptoed to the door, Gruffydd close behind. Mellion pressed a pointed ear close. Inside, he heard voices. There was also laughter, or screaming. It was hard to tell.
Gildrid did like-wise.
It was then the door creaked open. There, in the doorway, stood a very surprised goblin.
Otho Baldrac has been Lord High Marshal of Wall for more than 30 years. Unlike the rest of the Guardians of the Wall, the position of High Marshal is not hereditary, even though his father held the title before him. Otho's father Baldwin was Lord High Marshal during the last Great Incursion and had fought bravely defending Wall. He was awarded the the Order of the Dragon by the Emperor himself for his actions.
Otho had a lot to live up to. Baldwin was a very tough man, and expected great things from his sons. Otho was the second oldest and spent most of youth away from Wall, studying at the capital. In reality, Otho was a political prisoner. His father had become a bit a of a hero. In the politics of the Empire, famous generals, easily become new emperors. So, Otho's schooling was paid for by Baldwin's political enemies, but held captive against his father's ambitions.
This was to change, however, when Mallian, the oldest, and successor to Baldwin was killed in a failed expedition Beyond the Wall. Otho was quickly recalled to the place of his birth, but a place he hardly knew. The student, would have to become the warrior.
Otho's training began in the Underguard, those tireless tunnel fighters who protect Wall from below. From all accounts, Otho served admirably, taking to his new warrior role quickly. His father then began schooling him in the logistics of running such a far flung garrison. Here Otho's years of education paid off. He was an even better book keeper than fighter.
During this time, Baldwin began more expeditions north. Otho, more and more would take to the day-to-day running of Wall.
At age 25, Otho's father would be killed Beyond the Wall. An ambush by Hobgoblins was the story, but few believed it. Baldwin's journeys had become epics, song by bards across the Empire. The Imperial council, it was said, had arranged Baldwin's demise. Thinking Otho was just an inexperienced lad, the Emperor promoted him to Lord High Marshal of Wall in hopes he would have a more controllable Marshal.
Rather than be intimidated, Otho dived into the role he already knew, and all this time has kept the Darkness at bay.
Now, Otho tries to man the crumbling walls with fewer and fewer men. Imperial corruption and neglect have Otho ranging farther and farther for supplies, and becoming more inventive when it comes to making ends meet.
The few times he is seen outside his office strewn with paperwork, Otho is walking the walls befret of all the trappings of his office. Mostly he is seen at night on the battlements, staring at something, out Beyond the Wall.
When the Empire made the decision to build the Wall, and abandon those lands to the north, it was imagined at the time there would still be an Imperial presence. Indeed, the lands Beyond the Wall were not immediately swallowed up by the wilderness and the creatures of the dark.
A system of forts were set up as way points for trade and to protect those settlements still out there. Really, they were a way for the Empire to still collect taxes. Soon, those tax collectors started wondering why they were sending the money south, and not just keeping it themselves.
One of these warlords was named Captain Hogram. He held Imperial Fort Number 457. It was one of the most inaccessible fortresses in the land, situated atop a outcrop in the Stone Hills. Fort # 457, soon became known simply as Hogram's Keep, even though it is more properly a fort.
Once these petty warlords had cemented their place beyond the jurisdiction of the Empire, they started fighting each other. A combination of good location and cunning soon put Hogram at the top of the food chain. Two Imperial expeditions failed to dislodge Hogram. Both sieges ended in disaster for the Empire, and Hogram was left alone by the forces of Man. But not by other forces.
Kelval the Dark, leading what would later be called the First Great Incursion, stormed Hogram's Keep using a combination of magic and three Mountain Giants. Hogram and his bandits were wiped out, but his vast treasure was never found.
It is rumored that treasure still awaits would be adventurers. If they wish to find it, they'll need guts, luck, and a lot of rope.
Though usually native to the warmer, southern lands, lizardfolk have been spotted Beyond the Wall. Most sightings have occurred in deep caverns or near volcanic vents. One expedition into the Northern Wastes found a small clan of lizardfolk around one of the magma pools that appear sporadically in that frozen land.
Lizardfolk or lizardman nests are usually run by a dominate male. He can be spotted by his elaborate, brightly colored crest. Duller colored, lesser males sometimes wear crude warpaint in times of battle to intimidate their foes. Females are not normally found outside the nesting area, which is usually the darkest, hottest area of their cave systems.
Lizardfolk are slow to rouse, but once started they are vicious combatants. They carry mostly crude stone weapons, not being metalworkers, but have been known to carry metal weapons, looted from war or traded with other subterranean races. In times of famine or duress, the stronger males have been known to eat their own. They are definitely not above eating captives.
One should not underestimate lizardfolk, as many a would be adventurer have found out. They may seem primitive, but they have managed to survive in what would seem inhospitable climates.
I'm going to pop out of the narrative for moment to thank everyone who has travelled with me Beyond the Wall. This really all started when I discovered the OD&D revolution. The world Beyond the Wall has let me reconnect with old friends, introduce my kids to something that was special to me growing up, reflex some tired old drawing muscles and create a world somewhere just beyond the horizon. How many things let you do that?
Work, house moves and sports schedules have kept me away too long, so hopefully here in the next few weeks, you'll see new adventures from Gildrid, Gruffydd, Gustav, Laramine, Miss Adventure, Nemon and their new friend, Morey.
Until then, thanks for following along.
Lake Merr is located to the north and west of Wall. This expansive body of water is both uncharacteristically calm for a lake high in the mountains, and unfathomly deep. A thriving community once existed here, it's people prosperous from the bounty Merr provided, and protected by the surrounding mountains. The people of Lake Merr were envied by all the surrounding tribes. They built great temples with golden statues and market places full of the riches of the world.
All that remains now are the cold ruins of a lost people.
Long ago, it is said, Ul-Merr, great god of the sea fell in love with a simple daughter of a fisherman. She lived in a small hut on shores of the vast Western Ocean. Ul-Merr tried to woo her riches from the sea, treasure from shipwrecks, pearls and other secrets of the sea if she would love him. She spurned his advancements for she knew, like the sea, Ul-Merr was fickle god, and would leave her once he had his prize.
It was only when he promised that the offspring of their union would be a great and powerful being, that she relented.
Sure enough, Ul-Merr soon became tired of her and moved on to another conquest, and the girl gave birth to beautiful son. But, though handsome on the outside, the girl could tell something dark and powerful dwelled inside the child. She fled her village and ran east, deep into the wilderness, finally to rest high in the mountains by a lake.
There, the boy grew. His mother tried her best to raise a normal child, there, alone in the wilderness. But, the boy was powerful, vain and ill tempered, like his father. When a wandering tribe settled on the far bank of the lake, the girl, now an aging woman, tried to relocate to avoid contact with the world and her godlike son. He would have none of it, and in a fit of rage killed his mother.
Thus, the people of Lake Merr would come to know Him. He would make them into a great city, and in return they would worship him, sacrifice to him, and in the end, pay the terrible price.
Goroth the Mighty, Slayer of Kings, son of the war god himself, lived centuries before the founding of the Empire. He was the Hand of Death for three separate Kelmorian kings. So feared was Goroth that neighboring monarchs often capitulated rather than face him in battle.
When he finally did meet his demise, it was not on the field of battle, but in the bedroom of his lover, slain by his own Shield Bearer out of jealousy.
A great tomb was built by his last lord, Belmorca. It was extravagant for it's time, carved in runes and etched in gold leaf. So loved was Goroth that twelve of his finest warriors agreed to be buried alive to guard him in the afterlife.
Goroth's tomb sat undisturbed for centuries and it is only recently that rumors have surfaced that some misguided adventurers unsealed his crypt. It seems Goroth has had a troubled sleep. He has awakened, they say, bent on recovering the lost kingdom he once so loyally served.
Bugbears, probably the most dangerous of the goblinoid races, are scattered around most of the lands Beyond the Wall. At the Empire's zenith, bugbears, like most monsters were hunted to near extinction. They have made a dramatic comeback in recent centuries thanks to their strong clan ties and high birth rate. Whole clans are often hired as mercenaries by particularly evil or desperate warlords of the Wilds.
Bugbears are a warlike bloodthirsty creatures, created in antiquity some say, as assault troops for a mad emperor. If true, it is quite ironic, as bugbears have been in the forefront of many of the Great Incursions.
Adventurers Beyond the Wall are just as likely to run into these cunning brutes guarding a treasure horde in some dark hold as haunting a great wood. Either way, they are a deadly opponent, in need of a wide berth. Captives are taken only as food, to be eaten alive.
In a time shortly after the Wall was built, the great wizard Hurstis wandered out into wilderness. He had been a great man. He had been instrumental in the expansion of the Empire, and it's quick decline.
Hurstis had appeared when the Empire was at war on all its borders. He helped then Emperor Milleus hold one front, while another was assaulted, both through his use of battle magic and more subtle means. His duels against foes of the Empire are legendary. He strode as a god on the battlefield.
Soon, the new expanded borders were secure and peace reigned throughout the Empire. But, as in all things, it was not to last.
Hurstis saw this new, golden age quickly tarnish through corruption and decadence. He felt betrayed by the man he had helped, and not a little angry at the Emperor's ingratitude.
When a strong new leader emerged from the ranks of the Imperial Guard, Hurstis saw a chance to replace Milleus. With the help of the aging wizard, Kormac the Usurper took the Iron Throne.
I was a horrible mistake.
Where Milleus had been corrupt and lazy, Kormac was brutal and tyrannical. Rather than try to fix yet another mistake, Hurstis fled beyond the borders of the Empire, deep into the wilderness beyond the Wall. There he built a tower.
He raised it from the ancient rock, embued it with his power, and waited out his remaining years in meditation and study. But, alone, surrounded by monsters and wastelands, he went mad.
The lands around Hurstis's tower still bear the scars of his fury. Trees and rocks are twisted as if in horrible agony. The ground is cracked and scarred. The tower itself is avoided by monster and freebooter alike. A faint cry echoes from its ancient confines. Is it the wind, or the terrible melancholy of a mad man?
Morey tumbled through a web of vines and dead leaves into a dark cave. The sounds of battle still echoed into his new refuge, so the young magic user stumbled further into the cave. In the back, he found a small passage. With one more backwards look towards the cave's mouth, he ran down the tunnel.
After a few strides, he stopped. It was almost too black to see this far into the cave. Morey fumbled with flint, and fished a small bullseye lantern out of his pack. It was dented by his hasty retreat, but still functional. The new light showed a tunnel running roughly north east, carved by some sort of large burrowing creature. Cautiously, he moved forward.
The passage branched off back the way he came. He flashed the lantern down that way, and was greeted my large rodent eyes. A giant rat. Bigger than the ones sometimes found at harvest time back home.
With a startled yelp, Morey hurried up the passage he was on, hoping the rat wouldn't follow. His tunnel ended in a passage running east to west, this one of finished stone. Ahead, he could see a soft light. A quick glance around a doorway revealed a large room. In it stood another group of adventurers!
Morey was born a sickly lad. Too weak for the rigors of farm work, he spent his early years helping his mother in the kitchen. Often confined to his bed, he devoured books brought to his Westhold town by passing merchants and tinkers. He dreamed of being a great magus of old like Torvanol or Karus the Black.
When he finally grew out of illness, he was a tall gangly youth, who traded the confines of bed for the vast hills of his father's sheep herds. There, he learned the use of the sling. He could nail a wolf's skull from 100 paces, and often did.
One dismal, rainy afternoon, huddled in his cloak to escape the wet, Morey heard the sheep bleating in terror. This time, it was wolves again. But wolves with goblin riders. Two of them. They hadn't noticed Morey in the dark afternoon rain. They were gleefully massacring sheep, almost it seemed, for fun. Morey's first slingstone knocked the lead wolf dead.
The other turned and rode right at Morey. He fumbled in his sack where he kept the rounded sling stones. The bag was empty! There was a hole in the bottom. The goblin was almost on him, howling with anticipation. Morey flung his arms up to block the blow he new would kill him. It was then the goblin and wolf burst into flames before his eyes. His arms still crackled with eldritch fire.
Terrified, the other goblin took off as fast as he could.
Weeks later, standing before the council of elders, including Sir Fenwick, an old adventurer of some reknown, Morey was proclaimed a right and true magic user, bonded to Empire through sacred oath and sworn to never raise a hand against it. There was not enough money to send him to University for proper training, so as many a poor Hedge Wizard before him, he would gain his training on the road. His mother made him a cloak. She didn't have enough material for a solid color so half of one color, half of the other.
Sir Fenwick himself gave Morey the true conical hat of a wizard. Though, in truth, it looked like he found it in a rubbish bin. It was also Sir Fenwick who pointed towards Wall. The last place in the world left, he said, for true adventure.
Months later, battered by the road and weather, he arrived in Wall. An unimpressive place as he ever saw. That was, until he the Wall itself, dominating the horizon from east to west.
He found a small tavern, the Lazy Troll, and a group of adventurers in need of a wizard's powers. They would leave the next morning. What an adventure! to be in the company of true fighters. Morey had seen road wardens and militia aplenty on the way here, but not true sword carrying warriors for hire.
His four companions were tight lipped about their destination, spies they said, where everywhere. Outside the Wall, they followed a road in terrible disrepair. Occasionally, Morcar, their scout would dismount and look at hoof prints on the road. They passed the largest oak he had ever seen, alone in a filed of stumps. They camped overnight without a fire despite the cold, and the others seemed on edge, watching the horizon. The next morning was full of reading tracks and crossing a great bridge where he swore he heard off tune singing.
The next day found them in steep hills, climbing up and up. They were moving quickly now, apparently close to something. But in a small ravine, they were attacked.
Black arrows rained down on them. Morey's own mount went down quickly, along with one of his companions. Morcar was screaming at the unseen attackers in a strange, gutteral tongue. That's when a shaft pierced his throat and silenced him.
Morey ran blindly. The sounds of battle receded, but his first taste of combat had been more than he bargained for, so on he went until he found a cave.
The undead thing spoke in voice like steel scraping on stone, "Who dares disturb my tomb?".
"Saint Unther himself," Gustav spoke in a whisper, then shouted, "Back to sleep you wretched thing!"
The cleric's hand glowed briefly with righteous fury, then dwindled.
The saint gurgled what must have been a laugh. "You have no power here, young one..."
The creature moved with lightning speed. His rusty longsword bit deep into Gustav's shoulder. The rest of the party sprung to attack, but it was then that four unseen skeletons joined the fray, appearing from the shadows.
Gruffydd's hammer snapped the rusty blade. Laramine's mace destroyed one of the unholy man's shoulders. But, he still kept fighting.
Miss Adventure, Nemon and Gildrid faced the new attackers. It was an unelegant brawl in a dark, tight spot. Almost all the party was hurt in some small way. Saint Unther was still cackling with glee, flailing at the party with dislocated limbs, and biting teeth. It was Nemon who reached in and snagged the the gold dagger that was lodged in the creature's chest. Immediately, the red glow of his eyes disappeared with what seemed like relief. The saint's ravaged skeleton dropped to the floor.
A sealed closet was found containing a few coins and gems, and dusty scrolls. The body of the saint was left where he lay, despite the protests of Gustav.
A short while later the party emerged from a door they had previously passed up, and made their way to the stairs where they had encountered the giant weasel. Should they return to the surface? Should they make their way through the strange opening before them, and down the dark stairs?
Three of the four skeletons cringed and fell back from the cleric. The fourth rushed forward with a ancient bronze spear. Gruffydd crushed its ribcage with his hammer, then did the same to the skull. Gustav forced the other undead back into alcoves, where they been waiting and guarding for untold years. Cowering in their holes, the ret of the party made quick work of them.
The tomb had a solitary sarcophagus in the center. The tomb was richly carved with reliefs similiar to the frescoes in the hallway. The lid was carved in the shape of the saint himself. Asleep in stone. Nemon and Laramine slowly removed the lid.
Inside, a skeleton in a plain gown rested. When it didn't move, Laramine and Nemon began feeling around the corpse, searching for treasure. Nothing.
All this time, the rest of party waited, ready for something terrible to happen. A trap. A screeching skeleton. But, nothing happened.
Gruffydd was first to notice a small doorway to the west. It was plain and stone. A closer look showed it was sealed in wax. Miss adventure produced a dagger and carefully dug the wax out. A qucik check to see if it was trapped, and with the help of Gruffydd, the door opened.
Cobwebs obscured their view. The Men had to crouch to get inside. A single torch was lit to burn away the webs and thrown into the room to give light for the members of the party without night vision.
Against the far wall a single figure stood, then stirred. Dressed in a dark, filthy rag of robe, a lone rotten corpse moved to seperate itself from the cobwebs and the shadows. It carried a long rusting sword. It's eyes glowed red with what seemd to be mailce. In the light of the torch, a golden dagger gleamed, protruding from the creature's chest.
The hobgoblin gave a croaking belch that passed as challenge, then quickly closed the distance between himself and the party. Behind him, the cowardly goblin finally got some guts and charged in after him. An arrow from Gildrid bounced off the hobgoblin's breastplate. The fighters and the dwarf went toe-to-toe with the large goblinoid, as Miss Adventure and Gustav attacked the goblin from the sides.
The hobgoblin ignored axe and sword blows, while delivering slashes with his long halberd. A strike from Laramine's glowing mace, finally brought the brute down, but not before he had injured most of the fighters. The little goblin's demise had been much swifter.
Finally left to survey the room, they found found it mostly empty, except for crude piles of rage and sticks that served as the goblin's sleeping mats. A few silver coins were crammed in the refuse. Gildrid kicked over a bucket only to find it full of stinking offal.
"Ugh!, goblin piss." he winced.
With no seeming threat approaching, the party agreed to go down the corridor the hobgoblin had emerged from. The corridor cut back on itself like a horseshoe and opened to large room that must have served as a barracks or eating hall. Crude stools and tables were scattered about. A corner had burn marks and the remnants of small fire. Some unidentifiable creature was a blackened husk on a spit above it. Miss Adventure sniffed at it, then made a face in disgust.
A single door was ajar in the northwest corner. Crowded about it, the group listened. Nothing.
The door led to a darkened hall, leading north. The hall ended in spartan room. There was a rugged, neatly made bed, a sturdy table with chair, and an iron bound box beneath the table. The far wall had a crescent moon drawn in charcoal. Miss Adventure climbed under the table to pick the lock, but noticed a key nailed to the underside of the table. The box was full of silver pieces of different makes and sizes.
Meanwhile, Gruffydd had examined the walls, looking for hidden doors. Again, nothing. Dividing up the contents of the heavy box, they group moved to the hallway Miss Adventure explored earlier.
When they turned left and headed towards the open door, where they could hear noises. It sounded like a high pitched cackle that could be laughter. Torches were hidden, and those with low light vision moved to peer in the room beyond. Two goblins in heavy leather armor were running away from, ...no playing with a huge weasel!
A collective shudder went the the party as they remembered what happened to Dimzad, at the claws of a giant weasel. The goblin's rough-housing must have kept then from hearing the earlier scuffles.
Yelling, half the party charged in, while the other half loosed arrows at the weasel.
Despite their heavy armor, the goblins were defeated quickly, downed my a hail of blows from the Men and the Dwarf. Pin-cuchioned by arrows, the weasel whimpered off into a corner and collapsed.
The room must have been used to house the weasel, either as a guardian, as the kobolds from previous adventures had done, or some other nefarious use. There was a large bucket of foul smelling water, and a pile of dung filled with undigested bones pushed into one corner. More importantly, there was spiral stair, winding down into the dark, and a south facing door, covered in the painted skulls Miss Adventure had spied earlier on another door. Besides the skulls, there were words in crude script.
The party tried to decipher it.
"It says dead things,"Gildrid spoke. The party turned to look at him. He shrugged. "It's hobgoblin. It says dead things."
The boards were pried off, and weapons were readied. Gruffydd pushed Gustav to the front. "Here's your chance to earn yer money, boy".
When the door was wedged open, stale air crept out. Cobwebs covered faded frescoes painted on the walls. Gustav scraped a few away. The pictures showed the life of some forgotten saint. The holy man was portrayed performing miracles; guiding lost ships to shore, fighting dragons and other horrors. The final fresco showed the saint being held down by guards while an important looking nobleman plunged a golden dagger into the saint's chest.
While Gustav studied the pictures, he failed to hear the soft shuffling and low moans eminating from the dark tunnel. The skeletons were almost on him when Gruffydd gave a loud warning. Gustav turned and shouted" Back ye soulless beasts! Back to the abyss that spawned you!"
To his credit, the stunty hobgoblin stood his ground. He put up a good fight, inflicting some damage before the final blow, delivered by Gustav's massive flail.
While this little melee was underway, Miss Adventure had been calmly donning her "Speedy Boots" as she called them. In a "whoosh" of wind she off.
The screeching goblin had disappeared down a corridor to the south. She decided to scout down a matching corridor to the east. Within a few strides she saw crude tunnel dug into the south side of the hall. She zipped down it. It looked to have been carved by some great burrower. The tunnel was tight, and undulated up and down, side to side in a somewhat southwesternly course. She ran for just a moment before tearing to a halt. Blocking the tunnel was a massive rat, nearly her size. With a yelp, she ran back to eastern corridor.
Miss Adventure ran further east. The tunnel ended in a hallway to the north, and a barred door to the south. The way north had a closed door. The door behind her was nailed shut with boards, and covered in crudely painted skulls. She zipped back to the others.
In the few minutes the little halfling's recon took, the others had checked the body of the dead hobgoblin. The body yielded a few coins, and a strange blue half moon tattoo.
The party had just decided to head down the way the goblin had run when a large figure entered from that very corridor.
Before them this time, stood a full sized Hobgoblin.
Those above yanked on the rope, hauling her up. The goblin below hissed, and then disappeared. Moments later, yelling and screeching could be heard in the depths.
Miss Adventure appeared from the well, huffing, "Goblins...goblins down there."
"Yes, we heard," Gildrid said frowning.
As the party discussed what to do, smoke started slowly coming from the hole. The goblins were building a fire in the well, now turned chimney.
"There's got to be another entrance," Nemon said. "This can't be the only way in". He peered over the side of the cliff and shivered.
"We don't have time for this," Gruffydd spoke as he began tying a new rope around his waist. It'll be dark soon, and this smoke will act as signal to ever creepy-crawly within sight of this place."
Laramine tied a rope around hid waist also. "Two at a time I think".
Squashed together in the tight space, and coughing and gagging on smoke, the dwarf and the man dropped quickly down the well. They had to untie themselves and dropped the last few yards into the fire itself, which was still small at this point.
Standing in front of them, clutching a bundle of twigs was a goblin in armor that looked too big for him. Even though the helmet was of obvious orc design and obscured his face, the look of shock was unmistakable. He dropped the wood and ran back into the darkness. Laramine and Gruffydd stalked into the room behind him as two other party members above began their own journey down.
The room was large and square with a high ceiling. The whole place was of mortared stone. Forming up in the middle of the room in almost military fashion were three goblins.
A few moments passed as Laramine and Gruffydd looked at each other. Neither had seen any kind or discipline in goblins before. Behind the "soldiers", a slightly larger, fatter goblin was barking orders. The three then lowered their weapons and charged.
Gruffydd and Laramine charged themselves. Before contact was made the lead goblin fell with arrow through the visor. Gildrid had made it down. After dropping the goblin, he began stomping out the fire.
Gruffydd smashed a goblin flat with his hammer. Laramine missed with his magic mace, and the green skin he faced almost connected with the spear he wielded. It spun around to face the sea-raider, unaware Nemon was behind him. "Clang!" The goblin fell under the mercenary's blade.
Attention turned to the fat one. He was conversing with the wood-gathering goblin. The little one ran off down a corridor shouting at the top of his lungs. The fat one stood his ground.
His armor was in better shape than the rest. It looked like it was made for him and not scavenged. His skin was orange, not the greenish yellow of a goblin. He hefted a meaty sword and waited for the party to come to him.
Two days of hard riding left them at camp by the river at night. It was cold, but a fire would attract the wrong sorts. Odess, the moon, hid behind the clouds, and it was on Gustav's watch that something moved in the dark.
There was a splashing in the river. He could only see a dark shape, set against the dark of the river. It was large. This close to the bridge, it could be Ol' Nik, come collect his toll.
Gustav woke the others as quietly as he could, but by the time they were roused, whatever it was, was gone.
Trekking east along the southern bank of the river that morning, they found the ford. The hornet creatures were already up, busy doing whatever they did. The group crossed without incident, but this time, bows were trained on the far bank whenever someone crossed. They couldn't shake the feeling of being watched.
Across the river, they built a small fire, enough to dry a bit, and look at the newly acquired map. The "circle" was to the northeast. Uncharted territory. Hills were the common feature here. Lots of places to hide, and ambush. They moved a little slower than usual, constantly on the lookout for danger.
The hills grew steeper, and steeper, and more broken. Finally at the top of a bluff they found what they sought. It was a very unassuming spot, for a place of legend and fear. A circle of mortared stones, 3 feet high sat like a strange well, out in the middle of nowhere. Spikes, grapples and irons were rusting away in a circle all around. Many, it seems, had climbed into the well.
About twenty yards from the hole, the bluff abruptly ended. Far, far below the river made its way through the hills. A fall from here was surely fatal.
There was much debate on who should go first. The hole itself was tight for the Men of the group. All eyes finally ended up on Miss Adventure. She threw down the stale loaf of bread she had been chewing on, with an "All right."
A new iron spike was set, and a new rope lowered into the depths, with diminutive halfling attached. She went down, and down, until almost the entire fifty feet of rope was used. It was then Miss Adventure was able to see in the dark, the top most stair of winding spiral staircase. It was just in reach. Her toe could almost make touch it...
"It's okay!" she shouted, "I found some stairs!"
Those up above winched as her shout echoed up the well, and surely everywhere else in the depths.
Miss Adventure heard a hiss, then squeal below her. At the very bottom of the steps was a hole. A small creature held an arm up to protect itself from the few rays of sun filtering down. Beedy red eyes glared at the halfling. A goblin!
I don't usually like to interrupt the narrative, but Eli asked me about how I run the world that is Beyond the Wall. There are a ton of sites out there with probably better advice than I, about running OD&D games, but here goes:
Despite the fact that some of my best games have been run totally on the fly, ad libbing as I go (the kobold village was completely done, then I left it at work and had to make the whole thing up), preparation is key. Have your world ready, and then it's a matter of the PCs just going there. If they decide to left to the old tower, the tower's done. If they go right on the road, the old marsh is already stocked. Throw in random encounters (Logun was just rolled up, but instead of a werewolf just attacking the party, I had him appear in human guise, and halfway helpful).
I started with an idea, which BTW isn't really that original, of a world for the most part civilized, but beyond a certain point, the world was still wild and untamed. A little of the wild west mixed with Hadrian's wall. I've run a still floating-in-the-aether narrative campaign. It's completely frozen because too many members have a hard time meeting at the same time. The story is too ingrained in the membership to just drop one out. This began my interest in the sandbox. I wanted anyone to be able to play whenever. My kids want a quick session? Done. This website was set up, mostly as a way for those that might have missed a session to still keep up with what's been explored, who's doing what, etc. Players can come and go to the world as they please.
In my mind, too much time can be wasted screwing around in town, talking to PCs. For my games, Wall is where the adventure stops and ends. The world of Wall is there, the blog and descriptions from me are there so the PCS have place in their minds, but interaction is limited, unless it has to do with a adventure hook.
To wit, RUMORS. Both on the blog and in the Hole are rumors. These are story hooks to get the characters out Beyond the Wall. They can use them or not. The Well of Souls was just a rumor. The PCs had no idea where it was, til they found a map dropped by a bandit. Again, they could have just not gone there and ignored the map. You have to be prepared for that.
Back to the idea of Wall for a moment. I started with a rough map. I put it on the cover of my spiral notebook. It's 8 squares by squares. I decided each square was a hard days ride in good weather to cross. No scale. PCs don't know miles, they just know the narrative. "A day has passed, it's noon", etc. The squares are numbered A-1, A-2....I blew up each square and made a hex map 8 hexes by 8 hexes. Each takes about an hour to cross. This works for two reasons. 1-You check for encounters every hour, so each hex. 2- Helps me keep tract of time. And it's not so big an area you'll miss something
If you think about the traditional D&D sense of each hex size. Go walk into some local woods by your house. Even a in a small forest, you could walk for hours, but still walk right past the goblin encampment.
In each of these hex maps I've got 4-5 places of interest spread across it.. Normally I just make a little picture of a tree or a castle, then come up with some menacing name to match. These get put in the notebook. Then I start writing the info about each. Some are just quick little scenarios, some are huge modules in themselves. These get put in the notebook behind the relevant page. Now, repeat.
The area immediately outside wall are 1st level, then I fan out from there getting increasingly harder. So the farther they go, the harder it gets. There are pockets within that are harder, and some easier. Ol Nik, is a heavy creature in what is mostly a 1st level area. I use stuff from wherever I can find it. The current dungeon I found online, but tweaked to fit.
I by no means have the whole world done either. I have what I think the characters will explore in the immediate future done, but that's it. Hidden within all these random events/encounters is, I have to say, an overarching story that is slowly unfolding. The characters have little snippits here and there, but not the whole story.
Now, as far as DMing it goes I have some rules.
-Don't railroad. Part of having a complete world, is for them to explore, or not.
-Allow the dice to decide. Some of my best stories have sprung from random rolls. I also usually give everyone a second chance, but that's it. Dimzad was played by a somewhat reckless youth, and eventually he paid for it. His sacrifice allowed everybody to realize, they were mortal. That one death in the party has transformed how everyone plays now.
-Don't over think it. This ain't Lord of the Rings. It supposed to be fun, not homework.
-Embrace your inner 12-year-old. What would you like to have done/seen/fought.
Since I started it, it has been a blast. Our group ranges from 9 to way, way older than 9.
I rambled a bit, but hope that helped. I don't want to turn this into a blog about DMing styles, but if have a question you throw it my way.
I'm toying with the idea of letting others outside my group run around but haven't found a convenient to do it.
The night before their departure, the adventurers gathered at the Hole to pour over their new map and gather intelligence. Most wanted to make for the strange circle on map, hoping it was the rumored Well of Souls. They were also fairly sure the "X" was not treasure, but the location of the infamous Bandit King. Gustav was obsessed with finding Lake Merr, but the others voted him down.
It was bitterly cold outside. No snow, but one of those nights where the air burns your skin it's so chilly. So it was no wonder many were packed in the warm, loud tavern. Bits of conversations could be heard.
"...they say the Underguard caught 5 gobbos in basement below warehouse district. Heard the little buggers put up quite a fight..."
"...torches, right out on the Old Trade Road in front of the gates. Whenever the Watch go to investigate, they're gone...."
Tancred, the aging veteran barkeep brought the party ale himself. This was odd, as he hardly ever left the sanctity of his bar. As he handed the group their refreshments, he spoke low and to no one in particular, "You folks watch yerselves out there tomorrah. Strangers been askin' bout cha. I was tight lipped bout yer comings and goins', but not everybody else has."
The party shot glances around the room to catch some one giving them a look, but no one seemed suspicious.
The next morning, the party gathered outside the gate. The cold kept most inside, but a few well-wishers and gawkers showed to see them off. The guards were making their usual side bets on who would return from the group. Gates opened, they were on their way.
The wind across the rolling hills was brutal. When they reached the small valley that held Newly's tree they stopped. It was a break from the cold, but a chance to gather information, if the dryad so chose.
"Newly!," Miss Adventure shouted.
A slumped, gray, shriveled old woman appeared. Her skin was the same shade as the great oak. Twigs and dead leaves were trapped in the tangled mess that was her white hair. Her eyes were a pupil-less black.
"Eh? Who's there?, she asked.
"It's us, Newly. Your friends," was Miss Adventure's answer. The dryad just stared.
After a long, uncomfortable pause she spoke. "Who's this one then?" Her arm, looking like an old tree branch, pointed at Gustav. The young cleric simply grunted and gave her a disdainful glare.
Newly spoke again, "I see much blood about this one. Much darkness, and much potential."
Each of the group gave Gustav a look. Newly had never been one for prophecy before. It was odd statement.
"Newly," Gruffydd began, "do you have any news for us? Has any one been by here? Men with torches?"
The old dryad started walking back to her tree. "The comings and goings of Men are no concern to me." With that she disappeared.
"A girl in the Spring," Laramine said. "An old hag in the Winter?"
"We really need to show up about Summer," Gruffydd laughed.
Barely a week had past since our intrepid party had returned from the ruins of the lost village, when they decided it was time for another shot at fame and fortune. They had not recovered much loot, and finances were running low. It was decided that adding a cleric to their ranks might increase their chances of survival. A holy man could heal their wounds and maybe their luck. It was only a few days after nailing a posting to tree outside the Hole, that a cleric appeared. He was young, but full of vigor, and scrapping for a fight. The Lost lands Beyond the Wall were in need of some Religion, and Gustav was the boy, err man to do it.
Gustav had survived a great cataclysm, he said, but was tight lipped about which one. His god was great and powerful, but a again vague, about who they were. He carried a great two handed flail. With this he would vanquish the impure, and spread the Word.
After emerging from the kobold caves, the party found their horses gone. They had wandered off, or had been taken. No one knew which, they just knew it would be a long walk home. They were packing their things, preparing for said walk, when a mounted figure appeared on the road from the south.
It was Gruffydd. "Can't go that way," he said. "Nasty troll guarding the bridge."
"I think we can figure our way back to the ford," Laramine spoke up, hefting the magical mace. It was decided he was best suited for it's wielding. "It can't be that hard. Find the river, and follow it east."
Indeed, the river was easy enough to find, but it was nightfall before they reached it. It was to be a cold camp. No fire tonight.
As the temperature dropped, so did spirits. It had been a dangerous trek, with little to show but a dead comrade, and a few bits of treasure. During Miss Adventure's watch, lights appeared in the west. There were at least a dozen. Maybe torches, moving fast south towards the bridge, which was barely in sight around the river's bend.
The halfling woke the rest of the party quietly, and pointed at the torches. There were mounted figures on the bridge. They stopped for a few moments, then headed south along the road toward Wall. The party watched silently. No one would sleep the rest of the night.
With little rest and a few mouthfuls of stale food, the group headed for the ford at sunrise. They heard the low hum of the hornet-men before they saw the ruined tower. A few of the creatures were flitting across the top of river, snatching fish up as they went and returning to their hive. When they reached the tower, the hornet men seemed to ignore the party, going about whatever it was they did.
Gildrid splahed into the river, "I'll go first."
"At least..."Gruffydd started, but the elf was out of earshot,"...take a rope"
Gruffydd follwed into the river and was behind him a ways, when the group spotted the riders. Gildrid was on the far bank, emptying his boots of water when three Men on horseback emerged from the trees lining the river. All were clad in leather mail and wore black hoods. Gildrid had his back to them, and one rider was raising a crossbow.
Gruffydd tried to shout a warning along with the rest of the party as they all started splashing across at once. The water was too loud. Gildrid saw their waving arms, and waved back, oblivious to the danger.
The rider loosed his bolt. It missed, but hit the elf's cloak, pinning it to the ground. Gildrid spun around in time to see a battle ax slam into his head as a rider flew by.
He circled his horse, ready to finish the stunned elf, when Gruffydd buried his own crossbow bolt into the rider. Another rode out to face Gruffydd while the one with crossbow reloaded. The injured rider took another swing at Gildrid and dropped him.
Nemon's thrown dagger caught the crossbow wielding rider in the neck. The hooded man fell from his saddle. Gruffydd crushed the leg of his own foe with a swing of his hammer. He too, fell from the saddle. Another blow from the dwarf, and rider was still.
As the rest of party came up the bank, the wounded rides departed in haste. He disappeared into the woods. Immediately, Laramine grabbed a spare horse and donning one of hoods snatched from one the bodies rode after in pursuit.
They party took stock of the situation. Gildrid was down, unmoving. There was a great gash beneath his crushed helmet. His breath was shallow. "Great, he;s dead again," Miss Adventure said as she plopped down beside him. She forced open Gildrid's mouth and began pouring healing draughts offered up by the group.
Gruffydd and Nemon examined the bodies of the riders. Their hoods were black sack cloth, similar to those put over the heads of men bound for the gallows. Holes had been roughly cut out to see, and indeed, a hangman's noose held their hoods on. The men themselves were skinny, bordering on malnutrition. Their leather armor and weapons were plain, well used, but in good condition. The party found a few coins, but more importantly, found a map.
It showed they immediate area to north of Wall. Few maps existed of the Fallen Lands. This one seemed to made by hand on rough lambskin, probably by the hand of one of the dead men. A strange circle was marked on an area close to their location, but it was judged best to head for Wall and investigate later.
As the party readied themselves again, and rounded up their new mounts, Laramine appeared.
"He was too fast. Besides, I'm a mariner, not horseman."
The rest of journey to Wall was cold and uneventful, but the party kept a watch over their shoulders the whole way.