Friday, January 28, 2011

Dead Things

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, 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!"

Monday, January 24, 2011

A Quick Tour

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.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Up and Down

"Up!" Miss Adventure yelled,"Up! I want up!"
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.
Not a goblin. A Hobgoblin.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Down in a Hole...

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!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Interlude: On Running the Sandbox

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.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Into the Beyond Once More

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.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A New Adventure, a New Friend

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.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Way Back

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.