Tag: roleplaying game

The Battle of Heinrich’s Horn

Another tale in the saga of the Beckett Family’s adventures in Northumbria! These events follow Trial by Combat


Background

The session began with the PCs at the foot of Heinrich’s Horn, a steep and rocky hill about two leagues east of Blackwater Lake. Lord Balin Blackwater had just awarded the Beckett family the whole of Hickory Mountain, a rugged wilderness area of roughly a hundred square miles! Heinrich’s Horn sits at the southeast corner of that mountain. Lord Balin’s first command to his Beckett vassals was to clear the Horn of a band of wicked robber knights, who had recently established a camp there. They were to bring the brigands, especially the two leaders, Sir Raynald of Setmoor and Sir Aglovale of Kolkirk, back to Blackwater Keep, dead or alive. Two days ago, Lord Roger Beckett led a force of fifteen kinsmen and friends, bolstered by eight mercenaries, to the foot of the Horn. The winding path up the side of the hill—the only approach available to most—was treacherous, but they had a plan. Read more

Blackwater Lake

This document is another piece of the Compendium of Lands Surrounding Blackwater Lake, compiled for Lord Beckett by Talvion Tulossa of Clan Cormallen. The Compendium is thus far incomplete, for the Becketts arrived at Blackwater before a full survey could be performed.


BLACKWATER LAKE

Nestled between several ranges of hills, Blackwater Lake is a narrow body of water that stretches for about 30 miles from north to south. The cold, deep waters of the lake, though only a few miles wide, allow for easy transportation of valuable goods. The lake drains northward and forms the source of the Blackrun River, which flows northward about 100 miles to the ruined capital of the old Northern Realm of the Varangians. Just south of Blackwater Lake are the headwaters to the Blackwater River, which flows southward for roughly 250 miles and leads to the chief Frangian city in Northumbria, the port of Yarrvik.

Lying directly between these two great waterways is the tiny hamlet of Lakesend. Realizing long ago that the site was perfectly suited to control the waterways, royal agents established a keep at the southern tip of the lake, not far from the hamlet.

Blackwater Gobalds

Legends say that a clan of gnomes left the forests around Blackwater Lake centuries ago, and its members have survived as waterborne scavengers ever since. Known to lake region residents as gobalds, they supposedly organize themselves into egalitarian communes in the form of armored warships. Each such “turtle ship” is a large, sail-powered, slow-moving vehicle with multiple decks, auxiliary oars, and armor plating. The ship is large by human standards, making it downright spacious for the three-foot-tall gobalds. This ship provides them with shelter, transportation, and defense—all in one.

Based on all accounts, gobalds are essentially pirates, but their small stature places limits on their ventures. They do not attack large or well-manned ships, choosing instead to prey on small craft or lone travelers. They ply the waters of the lake almost exclusively at night, for their night vision allows them to travel undetected, to avoid confrontations, and to ambush small craft. Gobalds do not limit themselves to the water, but they are never far from their turtle ship. Often, they will dock their ship and venture a mile or so inland, organized into small raiding parties, looking to ambush lone hunters, trappers, miners, pilgrims, and other travelers. Though they will not exclusively do so, they prefer to ambush at night, as their night vision makes their night attacks just as effective as those in the daylight, while enemies suffer significant disadvantages in battle.

In their depredations, they seldom aim to kill, for their main interest is plunder. Whether they get their loot on land or sea, they aim to sell it at bargain prices to the scattered residents around the lake. They are competent leatherworkers and blacksmiths, able to repair tools, basic armor, and basic weapons—at least enough for sale. According to guards that have patrolled the lake for years, the gobalds have also developed a symbiotic relationship with the many human pirates that operate in these waters, purchasing excess weapons, armor, and equipment that the pirates do not want for half its standard value. In return, they are often exempt from pirate hostility, the pirates seeing them as useful ‘fences’. Gobalds usually sell their wares for standard rates, and since rates for most goods in the lake region are inflated to three times the standard rates, many communities deal with the gobalds despite an inherent disapproval of their methods.

A band of travelling gnomes shared with me that gobalds live almost entirely on various forms of mushrooms that grow all about the lake. In some places, they have hidden mushroom patches in the forest, which they harvest every few weeks. They drink mainly water, and even stagnant water does not seem to bother them or make them sick. Gobalds are reportedly highly resistant to magic and poison.

Gobalds dress in rough-spun, gray-green monastic-style robes, over which they have leather bandoliers. Though all work for the enrichment of the commune, they effectively embrace personal poverty, which explains their meager dress. Quite often, their clothing is dirty and musty-smelling. Though they bathe often enough, their preference for the interiors of their dark and gloomy ships, as well as their habit of nighttime travel, means that their clothing is often fouled by mold. Yet, they seem to have developed immunity to both its smell and its effects. In fact, gobalds are known for their hardy health, despite their foul food and dank living conditions. When in a natural setting, such as woods or hills, gobalds move very quietly and blend into vegetation so well that they are nearly invisible.

Gobalds try to avoid open battle, but their ambushes do carry a degree of risk so they sometimes wear light leather armor beneath their robes. As for weapons, they favor light crossbows, javelins, and half-spears, but their primary weapon is a paralytic substance that they obtain from a rare mushroom and then concentrate. They put this substance on all of their weapons, and they presumably carry an ample supply of antidotes. It takes only one minute to take effect and then renders a human victim helpless for several minutes. This is usually long enough for the gobalds to rob or to capture the victim.

Gobalds can largely speak the language of the forest gnomes, though their own language has significant variations. They also speak Frangian, albeit with a choppy dialect that makes it almost incomprehensible. Hand signals greatly aid communication. Their speech is fast and choppy.

Gobalds seem to have lost their ancestors’ inherent mining skills, but instead they have developed inherent navigation and mariner skills. They never seem to become lost, and they seem undeterred by fog or darkness. As for seafaring skills, they can sense coming storms. Ironically, at such times they rarely dock, but rather take to the open waters of the lake, perhaps because the turtle ships are incredibly well built and buoyant. Though one may pitch and roll, it will seldom take damage at while on the lake, whereas pounding waves may smash to bit any ship near the shore.

Little is known about gobald society. Rumors indicate that most females and children dwell in underground lairs near the lake. Upon reaching adulthood, male gobalds take up service in the turtle ship. There is a legend that female shamans oversee gobald society, and that males hold all other positions of importance.

Rumors Related to the Lake

  1. Blackwater Lake is bottomless. Its waters run down deep into the earth, far below the sight of mortal man.
  2. A giant sea monster dwells in the depths of the lake. Over two-dozen witnesses have seen it at one time or another. Most describe it as a pale serpent, longer than a carrack. There the agreement between their descriptions ends. Some mention worm-like tentacles, dripping with slime, and others mention six or more heads with black beady eyes.
  3. A giant dragon—pale as a grave worm—dwells in a burrow near the lake’s edge.
  4. Barbarian legends say that a meteor strike formed this lake centuries ago. Its impact left a giant scar on the land that later filled with water. Over time, the meteor’s energies somehow changed the waters, giving them their distinctive black hue.
  5. The lake’s waters bring strange powers when enough are imbibed.
  6. The lake’s waters are poisonous.
  7. The vile goblyns that swarm the mountainsides of Northumbria have their origins in black underground waters. They are not natural creatures. They do not breed or eat or sleep. Instead, they spawn from black subterranean waters at the will of their dark god, Maglubiyet. Blackwater Lake is a rare spot where those dark subterranean waters touch the surface.
  8. Blackwater Lake contains a strange blackish metal that is worth many times its weight in gold. It is so hard that no normal fire can smelt it. It must be cold-wrought, requiring weeks to craft a single blade. Smiths must use special techniques to give such a blade an edge, but it will punch through normal iron with relative ease.
  9. The strange blackish metal found in Blackwater Lake is somehow deadly against unnatural creatures such as demons, restless spirits, and werewolves.

Points of Interest

Smaller Bodies of Water

Long Pond

Streams descending from Settlers Mountain gather in this narrow basin about a league in length. From there the water runs past Lakesend on its way to form the headwaters of the mighty Blackwater River. During heavy rains and the spring thaw, the water rises high enough to overspill its banks just upstream of the village. The overflow cascades down to the Narrows below the Keep. Occasionally the river threatens to divert entirely to this secondary channel, but the Baron pays to have the main bed dredged in order to preserve the income from tolls on the East Bridge.

Martin’s Cove

The Narrows

This narrow body of water is the extreme southern tip of Blackwater Lake, extending in a crescent from the site of Blackwater Keep southward to the Blackmoor. The waters of the Narrows are shallow, so merchants do not send large ships to dock at the Keep, instead sending smaller boats to unload cargo.

Rockteeth Cove

Silvercrest Cove

Steffan’s Spring

Stillwater Pond

Whitehart Lake

Caves and Caverns

Drucker’s Den

The Pens

Hills, Peaks and Passes

Baldface Peak

Baldwin’s Bluff

Belford’s Ridge

Black Bear Mountain

Boulder Hill

In 604 FR, Duke Leopold of Ostmark arrived in the lake region with 1000 well-armed men and countless mercenaries to drive out the goblyns. They crushed an army at Boulder Hill, though the noble Duke died of his wounds. This defeat set the goblyns back, but it was the last effort made by men. Just a few years after the battle, goblyn numbers began swelling once again.

Brigands Rock

Burke’s Hill

Craig’s Peak

Falcons Eyrie

Foster’s Ridge

Hammond’s Hill

Hanover’s Hill

Hickory Mountain

The Horns

Lonewolf Mountain

Rumor has it that a werewolf haunts this rugged mountain. At the very least, a large black wolf is often sighted prowling by itself in the forests here or baying at the moon on the mountaintop. A few dozen settlers live independently in small wooden huts on the sides of this mountain. Baronial tax collectors have had little luck getting taxes or fealty from these settlers. Most are woodsmen and hunters.

Luthor’s Leap

Mount Melias

Mount Smestad

Parisi Point

Legend says, long before the naming of the lands, a star fell from the skies and sheared off the north face of the mount now known as Parisi Point. The event created a crater at the base of the hill that filled with water and since has been known as Moon Lake. The lake’s waters are rumored to be poisonous, and periodically its heated waters bubble to super-heated levels and release noxious gases that keep the area entrenched in a sickening fog. The lowland areas between the lake and mount have become wetlands, and the small swamp is always filled with mist and fog that tends to disorient travelers through the area. People often become lost when passing through, and many have disappeared entirely, with growing rumors of a magic fog, creature, or mystical forces blamed for the disappearances.

Another feature of lore is a suspected vein of an unknown metal that was exposed, or introduced, to the landscape in the sheared face of the hill. The substance, again according to legend, has been used in the magical conjuring and religious rites of the ancient peoples of the area. It is unknown what methods were used to explore the area, or locate and collect the material. Many have searched for the ore only to end in failure and folly.

An Aquilonian lord, a ranger by the name of Gregorius Parisius, took up residence in the area and became intrigued by the rumors. Despite decades of searching, growing a consuming obsession, and witnessing strange happenings, Gregor didn’t locate a vein, but he was able to find a small amount of some strange ore. He used the metal to forge a small axe that is reportedly indestructible and holds magical properties that helped the ranger defeat and drive back the goblyns in the realm.

The method and means used to forge the axe blade, along with Gregor and the axe itself, have been long-lost in history. It is rumored that Gregor disappeared on or around Parisi Point, in search of more ore, possibly overrun by the goblyns he fought hard to drive away. Others claim the axe possessed the ranger and granted him an extended life, and that it is he that ambushes passers-by, hoping to keep them from his find. Several bits of terrain surrounding the hill have taken the name of this mostly unknown figure, including Parisi Point for the hill, Gregor’s Grotto to the poisoned lake and its surrounds, and Gregor’s Swamp for the surrounding wetlands.

The swamp is also known as the Walking Wood, as it propensity to disorient travelers has led some to say the trees move to change and obscure trails. Some have even said there are dangerous plants and flora that poison or attack infiltrators. Other claim to have witnessed—or been attacked by—goblyns when passing through the region.

Pilgrims’ Mountain

Over three decades ago, clerics of St. Cuthbert erected a small shrine on the top of this rocky peak, but a small earthquake caused it to collapse, and it has never been rebuilt.

Runestone Peak

An ancient black monolith, made from some unknown stone and carved with indecipherable runes, sits atop this lofty peak, one of the highest in the region. Travelers weave many strange tales about the monolith and the peak on which it sits. Some tales tell of diabolic gatherings, human sacrifices, and witches’ covens.

Russel’s Pass

Saint’s Peak

Settlers Mountain

Traders Pass

William’s Pass

Wyverns Peak

Islands

Berel’s Island

Carlon’s Prize

This small island received its name in 506 FR, after a Frangian expedition crushed the Cruthni Picts. The leader of the expedition, Count Carlon, had many enemies in the provincial court at Yarrvik, and rather than receiving a large swath of territory as a reward, he received only this tiny island.

Eric’s Island

Hunters’ Island

This small island features a safe haven of the Huntsmen. They maintain a sizable lodge there.

Sanctuary Rock

About this large rocky island near the center of the lake swirl strange currents that defy all explanation. Swimming in these strong and unpredictable currents has proven deadly on several occasions. A very rich merchant named Jehan of St.-Martin donated a large sum of coin to build several structures on the island, including a large hospital, for he had a young sister that required special care. A small but dedicated staff attends to the unfortunates here.

The island’s geography makes access extremely difficult. Aside from the strange currents, only one area is suitable for mooring, and only during a specific part of the day, when the weather is fair. The inmates never leave so there is seldom a problem. These factors led the Baron to construct a special prison there for a few noble prisoners that he spared from the axe but dared not release. The island also features a lighthouse to warn off passing ships.

A small, select Baronial garrison patrols the island constantly to keep out the curious and to keep in the condemned. All guardsmen answer to the caretaker of the Island, who attends to prisoners and lunatics alike. The guardsmen, almost all of who have committed some serious crime and received a life sentence, live well on Sanctuary Rock and have no desire to leave.

Rushes Island

Wycliffe Island

DRY DOCK FACILITY

The Guild maintains a small dry-dock facility on a sandy shore of the island. This facility is adjacent to a rather placid, deepwater bay. The facility consists of a stone wall surrounding a stone building or two, as well as a number of wooden outbuildings.
Something, believed to be a force of goblyns, recently overran this facility and slew almost all of the staff. We found their charred remains in a pit.

BATTLE RIDGE

CEMETERY RIDGE

CHAPEL HILL

This grassy hill sits on the southern edge of the island, overlooking the lake. At its crest is Wycliffe Chapel.

GALLOWS HILL

TOWER OF MANATHANMOCH

As it has for untold centuries, a towering column of giant basalt seems to protrude from the sides of the limestone cliffs on Wycliffe Island. Measured from its base, it rises over 1100 feet, though its rises only about 800’ above the surface of the lake. Called Manathanmoch’s Tower, the eerie structure obtained its current name from a bloodthirsty Pictish king, who ruled this island and terrorized the denizens of the lake region some three hundred years ago. It is largely believed that he lived in this strange and formidable tower, its size and grandeur reflecting his power, and its dark and foreboding architecture reflecting the fear he engendered. After his unexplained disappearance, his fierce Cruthni clansmen dominated the region for decades more, using their primitive longships to raid and plunder surrounding settlements. The only known scroll that mentions Cruthni civilization, the incomplete Chronicle of Painted Kings, written by an anonymous Varangian sage, recalls that the Cruthni fell from power because of some mysterious disaster that suddenly befell them. It is clear that not all perished, for years later, when Frangian knights first explored the lake region, they clashed repeatedly with Cruthni warriors. Yet those Picts, easily swept aside, were but shadows of their former kinsmen.

WYCLIFFE CHAPEL

This multi-denominational chapel, built in a neo-Frangian style, features buttresses, flying buttresses, and large stained-glass windows with pointed arches. Inside are four separate chapels, dedicated respectively to Pholtus of the Blinding Light, Celestian the Far Wanderer, Saint Cuthbert, and Boccob the Uncaring. There are also two separate crypts for notable servants of the Blackwater family, while a third crypt is reserved for members of the family. A force of goblyns recently overran this facility, desecrating some of the chapels.

Landings and Moorings

Belcastro’s Landing

Trappers Landing

Man-Made Structures

Ash Hollow Camp

Fort Angus

Horik’s Tower

The Moat House

Pine Ridge Camp

Shrine to Celestian

Shrine to Fhalanghan

Temple of Pholtus

Zeelander Trading Post

Peninsulas

Beacon Point

Watchtower Point

White Birch Point

Widow’s Point

Swamps

The Blackmoor

Stillwater Swamp

 

The Investigation Falters

Another Beckett Family adventure in the Northumbrian frontier. These events occur during the down-time between the family’s investigations into the ruined Temple of Pholtus.  


Background

Lord Balin had tasked the Becketts with learning the whereabouts of his missing provost. They interviewed various people in the village of Lakesend while some of their number were healing and training.

Cast of Characters

Most of the party members are part of one large extended family—the noble Beckett family. A few are retainers

Granny Beckett: Witch. Eccentric matriarch of the family.
Lord Roger Beckett: Ranger. New family head.
Sir Raynard Beckett: Cavalier. Handsome and witty.
Daniel Beckett: Assassin. Passionate and protective.
Brother Lewie: Cleric of St. Cuthbert. Erratic but insightful.
Raymond Beckett: Fighter. Stoic and responsible. (NPC)
Rayner Beckett: Thief. Bastard half-brother to Raymond.
Marin: Young scout and skiff pilot. Recently taken in by Granny.

Narrative

Lord Roger pressed upon his kin the need to complete the task that Lord Balin had given them: To find his missing provost, Master Kevan.  With the Keep preparing for siege, the man was sorely missed. Over dinner, the family reviewed what they had found thus far.

Master Kevan is not the only villager that has gone missing. Jehan the shepherd had disappeared first, and Hammond the shepherd later disappeared (the family was currently occupying their cottages and watching their flocks on the hillside).  There was no trace of these two men.

Gunnar the smith had his two apprentices, Tormad and Arn, go missing, and while some villagers whispered that he murdered them or that the teens had drunk too much and drowned, the smith swore that the two were doing late night chores out back when they vanished.

Though it may not have been related, a week or so earlier, several villagers reported seeing a large man-sized creature with bat wings flying over the village. No one could give a good description, saying that they caught a quick glimpse through the trees as it flew in front of the moon. Conclusions varied wildly, but most suspected that a vampire was kidnapping and feeding on the villagers.

One man, named Egil, who once lived on the cliffs overlooking the swamp, claimed that some mysterious group had seized his son, Erland.  In a panic, he fled to the village, where he sought passage on a ship heading south to Yarrvick.  He claimed that this secretive group had infiltrated the village, and, fearing to be seen, he did not feel safe in booking passage.  Instead he hid, with the aid of the baronial falconer, Frederick.  The falconer had allowed him to stay in an unused shack of his in the poorest part of the village.  Unfortunately, that shack burned to the ground in the middle of the night a few weeks ago.  Roger had sifted through the ashes the following morning and found a hastily scrawled letter that the man presumably buried.  In it, he claimed that the secretive group had found him and was coming for him.  He mentioned markings on their faces.  Apparently his attempt to use fire to keep them away caused his own immolation.  Either that or he was insane.

I write this only to calm my nerves. It has been seven days since I left home. When they dragged away Erland, all light went out of my soul. I wanted to die, but panic took hold of me. Unfortunately, panic drives away reason, and I fled without significant coin. I must book passage southwards, away from this nightmare-infested land, but I have little coin or even shelter.

Frederick took pity on me, kindly soul. He remembered visiting my homestead on the cliffs, years earlier, where he used to train his birds. He arranged to let me stay in this tiny cottage for the next few days, rent-free. That should be long enough to book passage. They won’t think to look for me in this tiny, dusty hovel.

Terrors in the night! I am not safe, even here. I do not think they saw me, for if they had I would certainly share my son’s fate. There are more than I suspected though, even here in the village. They move about by night.

I made a try for the docks today, hoping to sell my services to a guildsman, but I know now that I am trapped! Twice along the way did I see villagers with those telltale marks. They know I am here! I see it in their eyes! I fled back to this dark hovel. The docks are being watched. I know it now. How to book ship with no coin and also avoid detection? Without Erland to provide for me, I shall perish alone in this dirty hut. I fear to go about by day lest I be discovered, but the night brings its own horrors. Damnable misery!

I awoke with a start. They are creeping about outside…

I can hear them whispering in the dark… Lighting the lamp was probably a mistake, but fear has taken the reins. Perhaps fire will drive them off! Need more than an oil lamp though. An old bulls-eye lantern may do! Celestian’s mercy—the previous occupant left one, along with plenty of oil. If they come for me, I shall show them such a blaze that they will slink back to the shadows!

Adela Farmer, the village gossip, mentioned that several villagers had changed their ways recently and without explanation, though the expected siege may well explain everything.  She mentioned that several villagers no longer went out by day, staying in their homes with shutters and doors locked.  She mentioned Felden the tailor, Hurlen the farmer, Ulfias the farmer, and Torstein the old pilot as examples.  She was also leery of two men that seemed to be squatting in the newly constructed village hall.  Another village gossip, Emma Mason, confirmed what Adela said and added that William Wainwright and his family never come outdoors anymore. She also mentioned that William Wainwright and Felden Tailor had come down with some sort of disfiguring skin malady.

Rayner had spied on the two men in the village hall one evening, a few weeks ago, but his attempt to follow them failed.  In a conversation with Lord Melias, he seemed to dismiss them as potential problems.  He did share, however, that he feared that a secret group existed within the village.  He was worried that such a group might serve as a fifth column during a siege, and he wished to root it out.  He suspected Felden the tailor, the two merchants at the village trading post (Dagonet and Arnauld), two newcomers staying at the Welcome Wench, a wandering ‘peddler’ at the Welcome Wench, and the entire band of Pholtan pilgrims that had recently arrived in the village.  He shared that the pilgrims had been seen poring over a map in the Welcome Wench, making secret plans, often in the reserved room in the back, presumably to keep away from prying eyes.

As for Torstein the pilot, Brother Lewie learned that this old man, who had ferried people up and down the length of the lake for decades, had stopped working just months prior.  His young daughter, Marin, was trying to keep the business alive.  Brother Lewie found her near the docks, and she shared that her father was very ill.  She mentioned that he had come down with some ailment in recent months and could no longer work.  Granny paid him a visit, going to his small cabin on a small island in the lake.  She found him rather delirious, short of breath, and sweating profusely.  His face was marked with grayish patches and blisters.  At first she feared plague, but she eventually ruled this out.  Granny questioned Marin at length, and eventually she noted that her father became ill soon after he stopped attending the gatherings on the hillside.  Apparently, he had been one of a small group of devotees to Celestian.  His small group of astrologers, mystics, navigators, and pilots had met occasionally over the years, especially on days of the new moon or during lunar eclipses.  However, Marin shared that her father grew disenchanted with the group when eastern astrologers began to join the group in growing numbers, changing the group’s traditions and exerting control over its members.  He eventually left the group after having words with such men.  Granny spoke with the old man briefly, giving him herbs to restore him a bit.  He seemed to have trouble answering any questions about that group or the eastern astrologers that came to dominate it.  On two later occasions, Granny tried other herbs, but nothing seemed to restore his vitality.  He died during her last visit, and Marin—destitute and in danger of starving—had taken service with the Becketts soon after.

Wymund the weaver reported that he heard and saw things scurrying around in the darkness around his house at night—things larger than animals and perhaps men, though he could not be sure.  He asked Reince the woodcutter to clear the trees from around his home, but the woodcutter never showed up to do the work so he eventually did it himself.  This seemed to do the trick, for he thereafter had a clear view of anything that approached his home, and the sightings and sounds ceased.  In the course of conversation, he mentioned that other folk in the village seemed strange of late, and Felden the tailor’s name came up again, as did Hurlen the farmer and Ulfius the farmer.  He also noted that Galiena the spinster had grown ill with some strange ailment.

Sir Raynard, Granny and Brother Lewie visited Galiena and found her in a terrible state, sweating profusely and writhing in pain.  Sir Raynard pointed out that her skin was marred with small pustules, blisters, and gray patches.  Her face and neck were a patchwork of scars and bleeding cuts.  Brother Lewie did his best to revive her and ease her pain, and for few minutes she seemed more lucid.  In response to their questions, she mentioned that ‘terrible things had arrived in the village about a year ago’ to control them through pain.  She screamed that things were alive and crawling about inside her head, and she clawed at her skin repeatedly.  They noticed her bloody knitting needles by the bed.  As she spoke, she seemed to convulse in pain whenever she tried to give answers that related the recent events.  After several agonizing minutes, despite the efforts of Brother Lewie, the spinster died before their eyes.  Before she left, Granny noticed that the wooden shutters on one window had been knocked off their hinges.

Father Godfrey sent an acolyte to Lord Roger to report on his investigation of the body of the unknown wounded man that had died on the hillside, perhaps coming from the ruined temple of Pholtus.  He and his assistants had discovered thousands of tiny worms in the corpse. They found these almost imperceptible worms in almost every piece of tissue that they cut from his body, whether it was near a wound or not.  They saved a few tissue samples and then burned the corpse for fear of some new plague.

There was much discussion on how all this might connect, but there was no sign of the provost.  Like the two shepherds and the smiths’ two apprentices, he was gone without a trace.  The fat, jovial and ever-sweating merchant, Master Arnauld, advised Sir Raynard that he should stay indoors at night, as everything nefarious or mysterious seemed to transpire after dark.

Unsure of how to continue, the family eventually decided to speak with the woodcutter, whom the weaver described as acting strangely.  Reyner, Roger, and Sir Raynard walked through the muddy streets of the village, crossing the algae covered wooden span of the west bridge.  Two Baronial guardsman and a tax collector talked quietly under a large willow tree nearby.  Not far beyond the bridge, they spied the woodcutter’s home.  It sat far back off the road, partially obscured by several large trees and many lush green bushes.  They knocked on the door to no avail, and Reyner noted that he heard noises inside.  Eventually, they heard a moan, as if someone were in agony.  Questioning the legality of what they were about to do, they nonetheless pushed to open the door.  It was locked, and Reyner went around back, only to find that door locked too.  Eventually Raynard put his shoulder to the front door and knocked it off its hinges.  Inside they found several children lying on the floor, semi-conscious and writhing in pain.  In a bedroom, they found a disheveled woman writhing and groaning on the stuffed mattress.  They sought to aid her, but she was delirious.  Realizing that they needed help, they sent Reyner running back to fetch Brother Lewie or any of the clerics.

The young man sprinted out of the house and down the path.  Only seconds later, without quite knowing why, he slid to a halt.  Just then, a burly woodsman lunged at him from behind a broad oak tree, wielding a long axe.  The bearded woodsman rushed him, but Reyner had the wherewithal to slip away, running back to the house screaming for help.  Twenty yards away, Sir Raynald drew his sword and rushed out to meet the oncoming woodsman.  When the woodcutter ignored all shouts and pleas, the knight struck him with the pommel of his sword, stunning him for a second, but the crazed man suddenly struck back and hit Sir Raynard in the ribs with the axe.  Furious, the Frangian knight grabbed the muscular woodcutter and threw him to the ground, wrenching his arm behind his back and driving it into the ground.  Reyner heard an audible snap, and the man wailed.  The young Beckett jumped in and wrapped himself around the man’s ankles so that he could not rise.  Roger, with bow drawn and arrow nocked, shouted for the Baronial guardsmen about a hundred yards away, near the wooden bridge that leads into the village.

One guardsman came running and helped to secure the scene, allowing Reyner to go to the Shrine to get Father Godfrey.  Though the vicar seemed busy, he and a few of his novices came immediately.  It took more than half of an hour to fetch them and to return, but the vicar wasted no time once he arrived.  He and his men checked on the woman and children.  The guardsman followed Father Godfrey’s lead, and the PCs and the acolytes of Cuthbert took the family to the Keep by means of a wagon.

As they left the Keep, Roger muttered under his breath to Raynard, “You did not have to break the man’s arm”.

“Easy for you to say”, the knight snapped.  “Your every breath does not feel like a dagger in your side, ” he continued, holding his ribs.

Roger grinned widely, continuing to chide, “I just point out that he was already restrained…”

“Well what if he broke loose?” replied Raynard flatly, glaring at his brother as they walked.

Roger laughed again and smacked his brother on the back.

“Bloody bastard!  That hurts!” yelled Raynard.  “Get away from me!,” he muttered, still wincing.

Laughing, Roger then dispatched Rayner to the temple of Saint Cuthbert, situated up on the hillside above the village.  “Cousin, fetch me Brother Lewie.  We need to heal my delicate younger brother,” laughed the ranger.  Rayner nodded and ran off.  In the temple, he found Lewie and asked him to return, noting that Raynard was still in great pain.

Brother Lewie eventually found his older brother, kneeling by the shepherd’s cottage.  Raynard gritted his teeth and Lewie inspected the wound.  “I think that lunatic cracked a rib,” wheezed the knight.

The young cleric was sympathetic as he dressed the wound, saying, “I would wager that you were not expecting to be attacked, especially after you knocked him senseless with the pommel of your sword.  We should all learn a lesson from this.  As for your wound, my friend, there is no cut.  The damage is internal.  I shall ask the Saint to heal you, lest you be laid up for a week or more.  Pray with me, cousin.”  Raynard joined the young priest in ritual prayer, and moments later, a flood of warmth flooded through the muscles along his rib cage.  The sharp pain subsided much.

“I owe you one, cousin”, quipped the knight.

“Nonsense”, the cleric replied.  “You owe the Old Man in the Crumpled Hat.  Make a donation at the temple,” he continued, looking up toward the limestone structure that dominated the hillside.

Back at the cottages, Roger mused aloud to Daniel, “Well, Raynard is not dead. We can be thankful for that. Yet, did we gain anything from that bizarre encounter?”

Daniel mindlessly flipped his dagger by the handle, catching it and throwing it again repeatedly. His eyes were not on his blade though, for he was starting blankly at the ground, pondering his older brother’s question. He finally offered, “Today we learned that whatever is afflicting this place has spread further than we thought… and we still have no clue as to its cause. Small comfort.”

Compendium of the Lands Surrounding Blackwater Lake

Compiled for Lord Beckett

by Talvion Tulossa

of Clan Cormallen

in the Year 614

by Frangian Reckoning


Preface

The enclosed notes are for the use of Lord Winchester and his kin. The author hopes that they may provide some aid in his quest to locate his family’s ancestral lands, to reestablish the Winchester family, and to restore it to prosperity.

Introduction

Blackwater Lake and its environs lie within a vast region that most people simply call Northumbria. This region, which stretches for hundreds of miles, is comprised mainly of forested hills and mountains, brimming with mineral resources, towering trees, and wildlife. The primary inhabitants of this rugged land seem to be either primitive human savages that dominate the lowlands, or wicked goblyn tribes that swarm over and under the hills and mountains. However, just over a century ago, explorers and adventurers arrived from the Kingdom of Frangia, perhaps the most powerful kingdom across the Great Sea. The Crown first established an agricultural colony called Southumbria, and, a few years later, it explored and claimed the vast tract of virgin wilderness to the north.

The Frangian Crown’s claim to ownership of Northumbria seemed ludicrous at first—and still does—given the sheer size of the region and the scarcity of royal settlers here. Settlement has been steady, but it will take decades before any semblance of control is established. Perhaps because of this uncertainty, daring Frangian settlers and freebooters have flocked northward, seeking opportunity and adventure. Read more

Terror in the Tower, part 2

The Beckett family ventures into the Temple of Pholtus described in part 1 of this adventure narrative.


Background

The session began with the PCs at a ruined temple of Pholtus, not far from the western shores of Blackwater Lake. They had already explored one outbuilding, where they found some hidden valuables in a buried stone vault. One such bauble was a silver decanter that slowly filled with fresh water. Daniel discovered this the hard way when it leaked through his backpack and breeches, giving the group a laugh.

Cast of Characters

Most party members are part of one large extended family—the noble Beckett family. A few are retainers. Characters in gray text were not present during this encounter.

Granny Beckett: Witch, eccentric matriarch of the family
Jade Cormallen: Half-elf ranger, distant relative to most
Lord Roger Beckett: Ranger, new family head
Acolyte Denston Beckett: Cleric of Pholtus, grumpy and dour
Daniel Beckett: Assassin, passionate and protective
Sir Callum Beckett: Cavalier, burly and jovial
Sir William Beckett: Cavalier, sarcastic and brave
Brother Lewie: Cleric of St. Cuthbert, erratic but insightful
Sven Ragnarsson: Barbarian, bastard of Granny, Bjorn’s twin
Bjorn Ragnarsson: Barbarian, bastard of Granny, Sven’s twin
Brother Liam: Cleric of St. Cuthbert, comrade of Brother Lewie
Sir Raynard: Cavalier, handsome and witty
Raymond: NPC (Fighter 1), stoic and responsible
Owen: NPC (Ranger 1), introverted and self-sufficient
Kieran: NPC (Magic User 1), gentle and intelligent
Sergeant Blaine: NPC Fighter, porter to the Beckett family
Dagis: NPC (Fighter 0), new squire to Sir Callum

Read more

Faith in Play #8: Redemption Story

This is Faith in Play #8:  Redemption Story, for July 2018.


Years ago I wrote Faith and Gaming:  Redemption, which was republished last spring.  In it I made the distinction between the “Prodigal Stories” that we sometimes call stories of redemption and the real “Redemption Story”, the story of how the price was paid, how we were saved.  I then addressed whether prodigal stories were inherently and specifically Christian, although I admit that the answer was a bit inconclusive—after all, even its creator says that Star Wars is about the fall and redemption of Anakin Skywalker (a.k.a. Darth Vader—you knew that, forget I mentioned it), but he would never claim it to be a Christian story.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Yet it never occurred to me to consider the other side of that, the actual redemption story, and whether that might be included in our games and stories.  Further, I’m embarrassed to say, I find that it has been included in a number of stories with which I am familiar, so apparently it can be done.

Maybe.

The glaringly obvious example is the one I mentioned in that other article:  the death and resurrection of Aslan in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe of The Chronicles of Narnia.  The redemption in that particular telling is very individual:  Aslan dies to save Edmund, although there is a hint of more in the statement that when the innocent dies for the guilty, the ancient magic would cause death to work backwards.  It is one of the best pictures of the Redemption Story in fiction.

It is not alone, though.  J. K. Rowling ultimately explained that she never wanted to tell anyone that the Harry Potter series was a Christian story because she believed that one fact would be the spoiler that gave away the ending.  In the end, Harry voluntarily sacrifices his own life to save everyone at Hogwarts—and because of magic Voldemort never realized he had cast, Harry’s death becomes Voldemort’s defeat, and Harry returns to life to finish the dark wizard.  We thus have the chosen one defeating evil by dying and returning to life.

I was further reminded, by the piece we wrote decades ago on The Problem with Pokémon, that in the Pokémon movie Ash also gives his life to save his friends, and is brought back to life.  It has been a long time since I saw that movie, but it again appears that the self-sacrifice of a lead character was a redemptive act.

I don’t want to stretch this too far.  Many stories include the hero sacrificing his own life; not all of them are redemption stories, and I’m not even completely certain all of these necessarily are.  Yet they suggest that a redemption story is possible in a fictional setting.  It is something that can be done in a book—I won’t say easily, but with care and skill successfully.

The much more difficult question is whether it can be done in a game, and if so how it would be done.

The critical problem is, who plays the redeemer?  When Mel Gibson directed The Passion of Christ he cast himself in one on-screen role:  his hands drove the nails.  If I am the referee in such a game, is the most important character in the story, the central character who pays the redemptive price, one of my non-player characters?  Or if it is one of the player characters, how do I make that work?  I am all in favor of player characters making dramatic sacrificial deaths—Multiverser encourages them, because the death of a player character becomes the tool that moves him to another world, another story, so the player can both let the character die and and have him survive.  However, how do I arrange the sacrificial death that leads to the redemptive resurrection?  Does the player have to be in cahoots with me on that, or do I have to keep it a secret, hope he will make the sacrifice, and surprise him with the outcome?  What if he balks at the sacrifice?

And after all that, would it be a necessarily Christian story?

That is a difficult question to answer.  I don’t know whether the Pokémon movie was intended as a Christian story, or how many people recognized it as such, despite the fact that Pikachu won the big fight by repeatedly turning the other cheek until his attacker collapsed from exhaustion just before Ash made his sacrificial move.  I do know that there are people who have read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and probably more who have seen the movie, who do not know it is a Christian story by a Christian author.  It may again be one of those stories that you can tell, but without someone to call attention to it some will never recognize.

If any of you know of a game in which it was done, I would love to hear the story.


Previous article:  Coincidence.
Next article:  Clowns.

Cultures of Northumbria: Elves

In this series of articles, Michael Garcia shares various custom rules and handouts related to his worldbuilding for his ongoing Northumbria campaign. 


The Elves are undoubtedly the oldest known race in the world. Their culture is ancient and largely unchanged, despite the millennia that have passed.

Typical Appearance

Elves are generally slender and graceful people, with long straight blonde or dirty-blonde hair. Eye color tends to be amber and bluish-green though violet is not uncommon. They do not grow facial hair.

Concerning fashion, elves favor elegant displays of great workmanship. Colors are usually rich, while patterns tend to be both intricate and subtle. Nature motifs are very common.

Elves favor tight-fitting hosen or breeches, along with tight-fitting tunics. They also prefer loose-fitting, ornate robes, made of very light material. Narrow shoes and boots are typical. Their cloaks, though lightweight, are usually long and flowing.

Language

It is common in many cultures for people to call themselves ‘the people’ or ‘the speakers’, but elves recognize that humans, elves, dwarves, and gnomes are all sentient beings that fit such a bill. Therefore, they call all these races ‘the singers’ (laulajia). Their specific words for elf/elves are keijukainen/keijut.

The elven base word for any language is the same as for ‘song’ (laulu/laulut). As the elves are the eldest race, they call their own language the ‘ancient song’ (vanha laulu).

The elves use a sound-based system of runes, which later became the inspiration for other runic systems, such as that of the dwarves and that of the Varangians (a northern group of humans). They actually have two sets of runes, one used for common writing (sanat, meaning ‘words’) and another (voimat, meaning ‘powers’) used for important concepts like magic and law.  All elves know the former, and all elders know the latter as well. Read more

House of Keen (Air)

By far the largest house, Keen are gifted with any talents useful in the gaseous environment. Dealing with the classical element of air, they are often involved with gas mining or with the persistent monitoring of gas swells and other storms. A great number of Keen Houses are found with the Eminar living below the vapor line. Possibly the most utilitarian of the Houses, they tend to be work oriented with much to keep them busy on a normal day. Above the vapor line, the houses do have the responsibility of monitoring gas swells in most cities and maintain the alarm system.

Granted Power: Keen can sense gas swells and storms of all fashions one minute before hand per point of WISDOM. In addition, all penalties due to storms are halved.

  1. Obscuring Mist: Fog surrounds you.
  2. Wind Wall: Deflects arrows, smaller creatures, and gases.
  3. Lightning Bolt: Electricity deals 1d6/level damage.
  4. Air Walk: Subject treads on air as if solid (climb at 45-degree angle).
  5. Control Winds: Change wind direction and speed.
  6. Chain Lightning: 1d6/level damage; 1 secondary bolt/level each deals half damage.
  7. Control Weather: Changes weather in local area.
  8. Whirlwind: Cyclone deals damage and can pick up creatures.
  9. Storm of Vengeance: Storm rains acid, lightning, and hail.

House of Holma (Healing)

The House of Holma is the branch tasked with healing. Despite what would be expected, Holma is one of the most highly criticized Houses. Naturally, their abilities are in high demand which has often made them the targets of extortion, kidnapping and bribery. Due to those realities they are secretive and mostly nomadic. Their own temples are unmarked, located in difficult to reach areas or out of sight in dark alleys. These serve as reprieves and safe houses for them. Everywhere they go they are in high demand if their GIFT is discovered. Instead, they work with the other Houses and travel to where they are needed for a few days before moving onto the next.

GM Note: Holma is intended to be a difficult House to play. If the PC’s identity is discovered they will be pursued. Sometimes the need is legitimate and sometimes it is born out of greed. The player should feel cautious any time they reveal their GIFT

Granted Power: Once per game session the character can use any talent they have without fuel or tokens.

  1. Cure Light Wounds: Cures 1d8 damage +1/level (max +5).
  2. Neutralize Poison: Immunizes subject against poison, detoxifies venom in or on subject.
  3. Cure Moderate Wounds: Cures 2d8 damage +1/level (max +10).
  4. Remove Blindness/Deafness: Cures normal or magical conditions.
  5. Cure Serious Wounds: Cures 3d8 damage +1/level (max +15).
  6. Remove Disease: Cures all diseases affecting subject.
  7. Cure Light Wounds, Mass: Cures 1d8 damage +1/level (max +25) for many creatures.
  8. Heal: Cures 10 points/level of damage, all diseases and mental conditions.
  9. Regenerate: Subject’s severed limbs grow back, cures 4d8 damage +1/level (max +35).

House of Ascen (Good)

Guild member R.C. Brooks returns with more Lands in the Clouds, a home-brewed OGL setting and system.


The House of Ascen, or simply Ascen, is the sect devoted to that which is good. More specifically, good is that which edifies. It heals the soul. In the world they are often the shelter for those dealing with grief and loss. Mechanically they are the House that deals with SPIRIT damage and combating evil entities. The House of Holma may heal the body, but SPIRIT wounds are more dangerous and can fester.

Typical temples are humble buildings often in poor or otherwise troubled areas as that is where they are needed most. Almost all carry low level tokens.

Once per game session, a character of the House of Ascen may use his SPIRIT score as an attack, defense or damage reduction vs SPIRIT opponents/damage.

Ascen Tokens:

  1. Protection from Evil: +2 to AC and saves, counter mind control, hedge out elementals and outsiders.
  2. Aid: +1 on attack rolls, +1 on saves against fear, 1d8 temporary SPIRIT +1/level (max +10).
  3. Shelter (Magic Circle against Evil): As Protection from Evil, but 10-ft. radius and 10 min./level.
  4. Holy Smite: Damages and blinds evil creatures.
  5. Dispel Evil: +4 bonus against attacks by evil creatures.
  6. Heroes’ Feast: Food for one creature/level cures and grants combat bonuses.
  7. Holy Word: Kills, paralyzes, slows, or deafens non-good subjects.
  8. Holy Aura: +4 to AC, +4 resistance, and SR 25 against evil spells.
  9. Grace: Removes all STRESS points for any willing up to 1 character/lvl in the House.