CONTINUED FROM HERE.
Yreorraent creeps to the chimney hole and looks down it, trying to keep the smoke from getting in his eyes and lungs. It’s filled with smoke, of course, and it seems to twist and turn – after all, trolls wouldn’t risk sunlight shining into their nice dark hole – so he can’t see anything down there. It’s too tight to climb down, too. Maybe a hobbit would fit, but the party doesn’t have a hobbit. Yreorraent listens. From down below comes the intermittent sound of voices like rumbling rocks. Definitely trolls.
The ranger reports his findings to the others. Finglas reckons there will be three trolls in the lair, because “that’s standard”. (Sad to say, Finglas is not the wisest of elves.) They hatch a plan to block the chimney hole with stones and earth, heather and grass, hoping to smoke the trolls out into the sunshine. It doesn’t work. Trolls are stupid but not suicidally so. Great coughs are heard from within the cave, and shouts of consternation. The huge boulder suddenly moves scrapingly aside – but only six inches or so, enough to let out a plume of smoke. Then all is quiet again.
A futher plan is concocted. Yreorraent, Pingle and Fergus will take positions up the slope from the chimney hole. There are rock outcrops aplenty to provide cover. Meanwhile, Finglas and the remaining Dunlendings will hide where they can watch the cave entrance. The idea is to wait until the sun goes down, hoping that the trolls will come out to investigate the chimney blockage. Those upslope will fire missiles at them, trying to stay out of reach and draw the trolls away while Finglas and the others gain access to the cave.
They wait for dusk. Once, Finglas thinks he hears a faint, far sound coming from the cave, like the howling of a beast – or a man – undergoing some cruel torment. The elf listens grimly. After a while, the sound stops and is heard no more.
This time, the plan is partially successful. Sure enough, as the sun slips behind the western horizon, there is a great scraping sound and Finglas sees the boulder roll aside. Three hill-trolls emerge in the gloaming. Unfortunately a fourth troll, only partly glimpsed in the shadow of the cave mouth, rolls the boulder back into place behind them. Warily, the trio outside sniff the air and look around. The biggest, a great brute nearly twelve feet tall, grunts, “Freg. Go an’ ‘ave a butchers at the smoke ‘ole.” Freg stomps up the slope to have a look, whereupon ranger and fighter fire arrows at him and Fergus hurls his throwing club. None scores a hit, but one of the arrows whistles past the troll’s ear and he shouts, “Dad! There’s someone ‘ere!” All the trolls charge up the slope.
A running battle commences. Our heroes fall back up the slope with the trolls after them. Freg takes a couple of arrows in leg and shoulder. Unfortunately, in the gathering darkness, the retreating men stumble over the uneven ground and slip on loose stones. The trolls, though relatively slow and lumbering, know this hillside intimately (and can see perfectly well in the dark) and manage to close the gap. The bold Fergus yells and aims a spear thrust at Freg’s belly. He misses, and Freg crushes him with his huge club. Pingle Rack, having dropped his bow and unsheathed his two-handed sword, is likewise slain in short order. Yreorraent is badly wounded, but manages to scramble away again and stay a step ahead of the advancing trolls, firing at Freg whenever he can. Freg, smarter than the average hill-troll, realises he can’t catch the irritating man, and throws a rock at him instead, landing a glancing, stinging blow on Yreorraent’s elbow.
Meanwhile down below, the elf Finglas has divested himself of his encumbering plate armour. Now he hurries up the slope and starts firing at the backs of the trolls. The unfortunate Freg is pincushioned with arrows from above and below and eventually falls dead among the rocks. Bellowing with rage, the huge troll patriarch turns and charges back down the slope towards the new assailant. At this point, our heroes admit defeat. Finglas yells, “Retreat!” and the remnants of the party take to their heels, scampering down the hillside and away, with trollish shouts and imprecations ringing in their ears and the occasional rock flying past their heads.
COMING IN PART 3: Tir-barad Tereg.
At the weekend my friends and I convened for our first gaming session in six months. I served something I’ve been cooking up for a while: an adventure set in Middle-earth, based on material in one of the old MERP modules from Iron Crown Enterprises, remixed and tweaked for use with Swords & Wizardry Core Rules with classes taken from Mike Davison’s wonderful Drums in the Deep supplement.
The Cleansing of Cameth Brin
It is the fifteenth year of the Fourth Age of Middle-earth.
Elessar, the returned King of Gondor, hopes to commence the rebuilding of Arnor, the ruined Northern Kingdom of the Dúnedain. To make the wild lands safe, Elessar is offering gold or land to those bold folk who will root out the remaining orcs and trolls.
Lately, there have been reports of orcs skulking and scouting in the hills near Talugdaeri, a small fortified town in the Trollshaws that has been destroyed and rebuilt more times than anyone can remember. Local folk suspect the orcs have taken up residence in the old Dúnedain fortress built into Cameth Brin (“Twisted Hill”), a league to the north.
On a chilly April day, three adventurers arrive in Talugdaeri. They are:
Yreorraent, a laconic Dúnedain ranger (effectively a 4th-level cleric)
Pingle Rack, an eccentrically-dressed fighting man of uncertain origin (4th-level fighter)
Finglas, a Grey Elf from the woodland realm of Mirkwood (3rd-level fighter/magic-user)
At the Red Hooves Inn, the only hostelry in town, they hire three local Dunnish men-at-arms, somewhat surly and interchangeable, called Cormac, Fergus and Donald. Yreorraent and Pingle buy several rounds of drinks to loosen tongues, and learn a few things: (1) The valleys around here are reputed to be haunted by the ghosts of long-dead Hillmen. (2) According to legend, a Hillman bandit long ago hid his plundered wealth in a cave somewhere east of Cameth Brin. Some say the cave connects with the lowest levels of the fortress. (3) There is also supposed to be a secret way into Cameth Brin from Tir-barad Tereg, the watchtower atop the Twisted Hill. And finally (4), they hear that a fierce and capable-looking Dunnish warrior (no one caught his name, or if they did they don’t remember it) left town a week ago, heading for Cameth Brin. He has not been seen since.
The next day, the party sets out. Yreorraent uses his tracking skill to find a few footprints almost certainly belonging to the mysterious Dunlending. (He also finds lots of deer tracks, and a few boot-marks that might have been left by men or orcs.) The trail leads to a narrow gap between two hills east of Cameth Brin. Suddenly Donald spots smoke seemingly rising from the hillside. Careful investigation reveals a hidden cave entrance, blocked by a huge boulder 13 feet across. The smoke, which smells of cooked meat, emanates from a narrow cleft a few feet farther up the rugged hillside. Probably a troll hole, our heroes reckon. And possibly the cave mentioned in the legend of the Hillman bandit and his hidden loot.
What do monsters do all day? You know, while they’re waiting for foolhardy adventurers to come clanking down the stairs with their torches and poles and oh-so-tasty retainers? Depending on your level of Gygaxian-ness (Gygaxianity? Gygaxiosity?), your dungeon-dwelling kobolds and gnolls and ogres and whatnot might be standing guard, sleeping, drinking grog, playing dice games, sharpening their halberds or adding a pinch of snot to the giant rat stew. Or, if you favour the mythic underworld paradigm, perhaps your monsters are just lurking in some kind of folktale limbo: not sleeping, not eating, not really being – but waiting to boil up from the collective unconscious, assume corporeal form, and inflict several dice of damage on those pesky PCs.
Anyway, that’s all slightly beside my point. Yes, there is a point. I’ll get to it in a minute.
One of the things I like about Skyrealms of Jorune is its encounter tables, which – in the 2nd edition – take up seven pages of the Sholari Guide. The flavourful main table for encounters with intelligent creatures uses a d1000 roll. The granularity allows for some quite varied and specific results:
001 = 1d3 croid making weapons
244 = 1d20 thivin gambling (shambo or mayoo)
946 = 1d6 cleash cooking their own crystalline eggs
Furthermore, there are several subtables, including one that furnishes some encountered creatures with “missions”: things like trade, transport, rescue, etc.
Here’s the point (I told you there was one): I decided to make an expanded mission table for wandering monsters in D&D-style games.
Zombies and gelatinous cubes won’t be on missions. (The perennial urge to kill and/or eat adventurers is not a mission as such; it’s maybe more of a vocation.) Nor, in all likelihood, will creatures encountered in or near their lairs. Quotidian activities like hunting or patrolling the corridors don’t count. However, intelligent monsters encountered in the wilderness or wandering in dungeons without a lair nearby might well be on a mission. (Otherwise, what are they doing? Unless they’re just lost.) If the Referee rolls up an encounter with some orcs, say, and isn’t sure what they’re up to, she can roll 1d20 and consult the table below.
Some of the results are pretty vague. That’s deliberate; they raise more questions and require some fleshing out. Some results overlap slightly. That’s inevitable. I have neither the time nor the inclination to make a d1000 table covering every little detail, and you wouldn’t use it if I did. Loose though it is, this little table is intended to enliven encounters and create roleplaying opportunities. I hope it’s useful to someone somewhere (in summertime, possibly).
|Assassination – They are on their way to kill a specific person. Who? Why?|
|Capture – They are on their way to capture an animal or person. Are they kidnappers? Bounty hunters? Animal trainers? Vermin wranglers looking for poisonous pets?
|Collecting – They are in this area to find rare herbs, minerals, eggs, magical ingredients, etc.|
|Crime – They are in the process of committing a criminal act. They might be highwaymen, burglars, smugglers, poachers, pickpockets, con-men, arsonists, vandals, investment bankers, etc.|
|Entertainment – They are travelling minstrels, or thespians, or circus performers, etc., on the way to their next engagement. Either that or they are eager punters travelling to a festival, exhibition, sporting engagement, or other similar event.|
|Geas/Quest – They are under magical compulsion to go somewhere and do something. If nothing springs to mind, rolling again on this table might suggest the nature of the quest.|
|Mission/Crusade – They’re on a mission from their god to convert unbelievers or destroy the infidels.|
|Personal – This could be anything: looking for a new home, seeking employment or enlightenment, on holiday, craving romance or adventure, or a hundred other things. See, I told you some results were vague.
|Pilgrimage – They are travelling to a site of religious importance.|
|Politics – They are ambassadors from one faction, tribe, or other organisation to another. They might bear documents, seals, or other means of identification. They might also be carrying appropriate gifts or tribute. Their mission might be secret.|
|Reconnaissance – They are keeping tabs on the size and status of neighbours and/or foes, spying out sentries, traps, etc., and looking for defensive weaknesses. Is conflict brewing?|
|Retrieval – They are on their way to recover a lost or stolen object (or objects) of some kind.|
|Refugees – Not strictly a “mission”; they are fleeing some enemy or natural disaster. What happened? Where are they going? Are they pursued?|
|Rescue – They are on their way to aid a member of their group who has got lost, been abducted, or is in some other kind of trouble.|
|Research – They are out looking for information of some kind. Perhaps they are willing and able to pay for it. Perhaps they don’t want anyone else to know it, whatever it is.|
|Revenge – They seek redress (probably of the violent kind) for some wrong committed against them (or their relatives or friends). They are most likely well-armed and armoured.|
|Task – Similar to Geas/Quest above, but the compulsion is not magical. For example, an Orcish champion might have to perform a particular arduous feat (or three, or a dozen) before he can marry the Orc-princess. Perhaps he would welcome some assistance in his labours. Or maybe one of his tasks is to take home a necklace of human ears…|
|Trade – They are merchants, with goods to trade. Add 1d3 pack animals, plus 1d6 guards, or more if the goods are especially valuable, large or numerous.|
|Transport – They are couriers, on their way to deliver something somewhere, or returning after having delivered it. Add 1d6 guards, or more if the cargo is/was especially valuable.|
|Treasure Hunt – They’re after a particular treasure. Maybe they’ve heard rumours of its location, or are in possession of a map. They are unlikely to share such information with adventurers unless they need help achieving their goal.|
Who knows? Maybe one day this blog will likewise emerge from its long hibernation…
I count at least 27 gameable elements in this video.
The postie tried to deliver this yesterday, but it wouldn’t fit through my letterbox (you can see why!) so I had to go and collect it from the sorting office this morning. Unfortunately then I had to go to work, so I’ve only had time to glance through the pages, but what I’ve seen so far is pretty bloomin’ marvellous.
After all these years, it is a treat to behold Petty Gods in the flesh, as it were. I will have more to say anon.
Remember, you can get a copy (hardback, paperback or FREE PDF) from one of the links here.
In case you haven’t already heard, after a long and fitful series of events and processes – conception, gestation, stagnation, revivification, presentation (as Original Petty Gods), revision and expansion – Petty Gods is now available in hardback or paperback formats (at cost) or as a PDF (absolutely free)! This thing is almost 400 pages long, and those pages are stuffed to the gunwales with godlings, minions and servitors, divine items, spells and, er, foodstuffs (black death pudding, anyone?) to weird up your old-school fantasy RPG of choice.
Doubtless I’ll have more to say when my hardback copy arrives and I can read this thing properly. (I’m not a fan of PDFs, although when they’re free I certainly don’t complain.) Meanwhile, hats aloft if you will to Blair Fitzpatrick, James Maliszewski, Peter Gifford, Greg Gorgonmilk, Matthew W. Schmeer and Richard J. LeBlanc, Jr., whose ideas and (appropriately herculean) efforts have brought forth this behemoth from the combined imaginations of the old-school role-playing community, much as the Greek gods split open the braincase of Zeus to bring forth Athena. Or something.
Get your copy here.
Gamers & Grognards is hosting/coordinating this year’s Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day. I am pleased to participate.
Last time we did this, I wrote about my love for Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox and posted one of my “daft wee dungeons” written for that system. This time around, for the sake of variety, I present a mini-hexcrawl adventure written for the S&W Core Rules. Naturally, being S&W, it’s playable with any TSR-era version of D&D or clone or whatever, with (at most) minor tweaking.
That’s one of the reasons Swords & Wizardry appeals to me; it’s simple and consequently extremely flexible. Tweaking the rules is easy, and it’s actively encouraged throughout the text. One only has to look at the range of games that have sprouted from the fertile soil of S&W – including John M. Stater’s Blood & Treasure and Pars Fortuna, Christian Mehrstam’s Whitehack and Dave Bezio’s X-Plorers – to appreciate the extent to which one can “genetically engineer” Matt Finch’s creation, producing “designer baby” games in a variety of genres and styles.
Both of this blog’s regular readers will know that I’m fond of the Icelandic sagas and all things Norse. They may also recall that I hold David “Zeb” Cook’s Vikings sourcebook for AD&D 2e in high regard. That book, and each of the other similar volumes produced at the time, struggled (and mostly succeeded) to tweak and twist the AD&D rules to fit a particular historical milieu. They were, at least in part, collections of setting-specific house rules. That sort of thing is immeasurably quicker and easier to do with Swords & Wizardry.
Hence my Old Norse campaign notes.
You can use those house rules to play “Trouble in Trollwood” if you want to enhance the distinctive Old Norse flavour. However, nothing in the adventure assumes that you will.
That’s enough blether. Here’s “Trouble in Trollwood”, an adventure inspired by the Eddas and some of the fornaldarsögur. It’s suitable for a party of 4th- and/or 5th-level characters. I hope you enjoy it.
Edit: Damn. Just spotted a mistake in Isgerd’s spell list. It’s fixed now. If you’re one of the first five people to download the PDF, you might want to do it again. Apologies.
If you don’t already know, R.J. Thompson at Gamers & Grognards is hosting Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day this year. Hats off to R.J.! The last one, curated by Erik Tenkar two years ago, was a roaring success, producing a veritable cornucopia of old-school gaming goodness tailored to fit S&W. (If you missed it, a list of links to 144 contributing blogs can be found here.)
This year, the date for your diary is the 17th of April. That’s this Friday. If you want to participate, get in touch with R.J. soon. Complete instructions here.
Last time, I extolled some of the many virtues of the Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox Rules and threw in a mini-dungeon adventure to boot. Expect another adventure this year, but this time it’s a bit different. It’s a mini-hexcrawl, for a start.
Meanwhile, spread the word!
I disapprove of having music playing during RPG sessions. When I’m writing and prepping adventures it’s fine and dandy (though I choose carefully to create or enhance whatever mood I’m striving for) but I find it intrusive and distracting when I’m actually playing a game.
Not everyone feels this way. Luckily for me, one of the people who didn’t was Dave, GM of perhaps the most enjoyable campaign I’ve been involved with. In 1986-87, Dave ran a Stormbringer campaign called “Sundial”, inspired by this Rodney Matthews painting:
Dave played background music while Exendar the merchant, Lemi the barbarian and Yokraith of Melniboné, sorcerer and all-round bastard, pursued their exploits in the Young Kingdoms. His tastes ran to Boston and Styx, as I recall, then one evening he put on something that made me sit up and take notice. (See, I told you music was distracting.) Floaty, trippy avant-jazz-rock with shout-out-loud awesome drumming. Male and female vocals intoning incomprehensible lyrics about Radio Gnome and “love projectors”. Whimsical spoken sections. Prostitute poems. Curiouser and curiouser. “Would you like some tea?”
It was the album Angel’s Egg – my introduction to the green/invisible planet Gong, its mythology and its Earthly emissaries the Pot-Head Pixies. I hitched a ride aboard a flying teapot, took a trip along the Oily Way and never looked back.
Some years later, after seeing Dances With Wolves, my friend Rob (who played Yokraith in that campaign) bestowed upon me my “Sioux name” – Listens To Gong. I bear it (and a small Gong badge) with pride to this day.
Chief among those musical visitors from a happier sphere was poet, composer, singer and glissando guitarist Daevid Allen, who died of cancer yesterday, aged 77 but retaining to the end that child-like, playful-profound, optimistic outlook that informed and enhanced all his work. Obituary here.
Given that Gong’s most significant and enduring work – the Radio Gnome “trilogy” consisting of the albums Flying Teapot, Angel’s Egg and You – was recorded and released in 1973-74, I wouldn’t mind betting that some early D&D campaigns (in the UK at least) were influenced by the saga of Zero the Hero, Captain Capricorn, et al. Surely somewhere, buried in old files and faded jotters, someone has game stats for the Octave Doctors and their Crystal Machine. I know one game designer at least who, somewhat later, was inspired by the mythos; here’s part of the map from Garry Robson’s Faerie Wood RPG:
If any of this means anything to you, then I urge you to put a flying teapot (“green as an emerald in the blue”) in your next game session. You can even have your characters feed fish and chips to a witch’s pussy if you like; I don’t know how your games work.
I don’t have much more to say. Farewell to Daevid Allen (aka Bert Camembert, Dingo Virgin, Divided Alien, etc.) – countercultural prankster, creative artist, psychedelic troubadour, founding member of Soft Machine, father and figurehead of the extended Gong family, a man who made the world a more interesting, colourful, joyful place.
Have a cup of tea. Have another one. Have a cup of tea.
Daevid Allen (1938-2015)