Friday, January 29, 2021

Castle Xyntillan Session 32: Relics of the King

In the last session, the party escaped from the Maze via the Indoornesse, tricked a troll, met a hermit, got possessed by a thespian, and finally destroyed the vampiress Maltricia Malevol, possibly angering the Beast, but helping both Claude and Serpentina. hat will come of Maltricia's slaying? Why does Claude want a Malevol bone? And what was that silver coin? Read on in this week's session of Castle Xyntillan!

The Party

Longo Lightfoot, Halfling Thief, wears a sky-blue headscarf. Played by CaptainSabatini.
Corby the Joyful, Human Cleric of Sucellus, wears a horned helm. Played by diregrizzlybear.
Idred the Most Omniscient, Human MU, wears a full-visored greathelm. Played by David Perry.
Boroth Swinney the Joyous, Human Fighter, wears a masked helm depicting a happy human face. Played by Justin Hamilton.
Francois, Light Footman, noticeably dogless.
Jorg, Promoted to Relic-Bearer
Yessica, Arbalist
Kaleb, Arbalist with a nose for booze and a magic pipe
Eric, Light Footman and cart driver.
Oscar, Arbalist of unusual strength
LaBeouf, Camp Cook.
Raymond, Mule.


Maltricia's Signet Ring, 600gp
Emerald-studded bracelet, 4500gp
Book of Valorous Deeds (disappeared)
Assorted Kriegsspiel modules
The Reliquary of Bygone Kings (priceless)

The Game
  • The party had just slain Countess Maltricia Malevol, their longtime foe. They ensured her body was staked, decapitated and disintegrated by artificial sunlight, and that there was no remaining trace of her in her cell. All that remained were the witnesses to their killing.
  • Three other prisoners, humans from Tours-en-Savoy, had seen the party come in, and heard the fight that followed. The party debated what to do with them. After deciding that more murder was not the solution, they went for breaking and entering. They broke the prisoners out of their cells and charmed Melvin, the one which seemed the most likely to snitch. 
  • The prisoners told them that the hunchback Samuel came to feed the prisoners around the eighth bell; plenty of time to escape. The party scouted further west, elected against trying their luck in the dungeon, and extracted their new charges.
  • Outside, they rested briefly, assured Eric and LaBeouf that they were alive and well despite spending the night in the castle, and left the escaped prisoners in their care. The party still had some business to attend to.
  • They reentered the castle, heading for the stairs to the Maze. Along the way, they hid from an approaching creature, which wheezed and dragged itself through the hallways, leaving a trail of lime and plaster. They deduced it was the same creature inside the dragon statue in another area, and let it pass.
  • Back in the menagerie, they battled and turned the animated taxidermies, then rushed up the steps. When they realized they needed a body to pay the cyclops, they doubled back and grabbed the bloated body in the waterlogged coffin nearby.
  • They offered this to the cyclops, which was glad for a 'marinated' treat and let the party pass into the library. They reunited with Corby's phantom allies within, which warned them that the library's keeper had returned in their absence: Justin De Loup, werewolf librarian. Given that exorcisms are not quiet affairs, they decided to get in front of their problem and go to him directly. 
  • Justin was uneasy with visitors in his library, but was swayed by their consideration in using sunstones instead of flames for light, and their offer to rid the library of the phantoms. He gave the party leave to perform the exorcism.
  • One exorcism later, the phantoms faded from view and went to their allotted rest. Before disappearing, one of them handed Corby a book, bound in blue velvet with gold lettering. Its long Latin title was summarized by Idred as 'The Book of Valorous Deeds.' This was one of the holy relics Brother Michel was searching for, an ancient text which could impart great prowess on its reader, but would disappear once read.
Corby: What is Brother Michel offering for this?
GM: The grace and gratitude of the church.
Corby: How many attacks per round is that worth?
  • The party decided to give Boroth the extra fighting ability. He read through the tome at immense speed (there were plenty of pictures) and was so inspired by the tales of heroes past that he … got an extra attack every other round. I'm really not sure how to explain that in the game fiction.
  • The book faded in his hands, but not before Boroth stuck a note inside the cover reading, "Please return if found." They legged it before Justin figured out they disappeared one of his books, though Boroth nabbed some Kriegsspiel modules from the shelves.
  • On the way back down, they sent the shambling mound to dead with the remaining taxidermies. It destroyed them in good time, and the party followed it down. There was just one door in the vicinity they hadn't checked out yet. There was light spilling out from within, and a mirror under the door showed a burning bonfire and a glass dome.
  • Longo and Corby stepped inside. They found a varicolored fire burning in a brazier, and a silver reliquary under the dome. Creeped out by the fire, Longo covered it with a shield. He was very nearly hypnotized by the flames, but resisted, and covered the brazier, although it was clear the flames still burned without air. 
  • They made haste to undo the latch on the glass dome, and succeeded. They even made their saves against the choking dust that filled the room as they opened it, and came face-to-face with a ghostly shape manifesting from the dust. This was the shade of Merlerik Malevol, Founder of the Malevol dynasty, whose visage was graven into the reliquary. He took one look at Corby, horned helm and all, and bestowed the reliquary 'upon those worthy to claim it,' then disappeared. 
  • The party tapped their lightbearer, Jorg to carry the Reliquary, as they had long since lost much use for him with their sunstones. He was more than happy for the promotion.
  • With that done, they set about finishing their map of the local area. They came upon the nightmare hallway from their first expedition, as well as the entrance to the Beast's rose garden.
Corby: I take out a pint of oil.
Party: Nooooo!
  • They discovered an old matron working in a linen closet, which Longo carefully backed out of, and they returned to the sire of their battle with the shambling mound. A portal there led into a closed-off section of the Indoornesse, a beautiful pastoral scene in mid-autumn, and the party relaxed there for a time amid the lake and gazebos. On exiting the pocket dimension, they felt the appeal of that place dim and dry up. That was where the session ended. 
  • Will the party seek out yet more treasure in the halls of Xyntillan? Will they return to Claude and receive their reward? What mysterious illness* afflicts Longo? The party has nearly all they need to seek the Grayl, and the campaign marches towards a conclusion. All will soon be revealed, so be sure to read next week's session of Castle Xyntillan!

The party got very lucky with reaction rolls this session, lots of neutral encounters.

I rolled through the combat between the shambling mound and the taxidermies (just a boar and some killer bambis). It didn't take too long, though I don't think I'll be rolling through combats like those in the future, since the shambling mound is such an overbearing opponent.

The party was quite disappointed that none of the gazebos came to life and tried to eat them. Step up your game Gabor!

Next Chapter: Fear the Reaper

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Castle Xyntillan Session 31: The Countess' End

In the last session, the party dealt with strange changes to their cleric's magic, acquired a posse of phantoms, and reached the throne room of the Beast himself. Now, their lord Claude's rule is legitimated, the vampire Countess Maltricia's role in the subversion of the lich Aristide's will has been revealed, and her crimes are set to be punished. Will the party try to take justice into their own hands? How will they get back to safety from the heart of the dungeon? And what shall be the consequences? All this and more in this week's session of Castle Xyntillan!

The Party

Longo Lightfoot, Halfling Thief, wears a sky-blue headscarf. Played by CaptainSabatini.
Corby the Joyful, Human Cleric of Sucellus, wears a short, conical hat. Played by diregrizzlybear.
Idred the Most Omniscient, Human MU, wears a full-visored greathelm. Played by David Perry.
Boroth Swinney the Joyous, Human Fighter, wears a masked helm depicting a happy human face. Played by Justin Hamilton.
Francois, Light Footman, noticeably dogless.
Jorg, Lightbearer
Yessica, Arbalist
Kaleb, Arbalist with a nose for booze and a magic pipe
Eric, Light Footman and cart driver.
Oscar, Arbalist of unusual strength
LaBeouf, Camp Cook.
Raymond, Mule.


8 pairs of mountain crystal eyes, 1600gp 
Emerald bracelet, 4500gp  
Malevol signet ring, 600gp
1060gp cash
Gold-rimmed spectacles, 100gp
Jewelled snuffbox, 400gp
Ivory-tipped walking stick, 150gp
Stuffed crocodile, 340gp
Silk women's undergarments, 50gp
1 silver coin from Father Chlodowig
Potion of extra healing, as plum wine
Two unidentified potions, as amaretto

The Game
  • The party sat outside the golden doors to the Beast's throne room, plotting out their next move. They didn't want to go after Maltricia before the Beast got to her; that would make their entire journey to his court moot. They decided to exfiltrate and rest up outside the castle, but not before further exploring the maze.
  • They passed through a room filled with portraits, and from there into a drawing room with a well-stocked liquor cabinet. They plundered some plum wine and amaretto bottles, and noticed crumpled political and philosophical treatises on a desk, with a peacock-feather quill.
  • Beyond, they found an interior garden, decorated with the trophy heads of various animals. The trophies' eyes followed them around the room, and the party realized that the eyes were carved from crystal.
Party: Which of these heads looks the least dangerous?
GM: The white rabbit.
Party: What about the second least dangerous?
GM: The honey badger.
Party: ...
  • They scavenged the crystal eyes from the trophies, each of which cried pitifully, but the party's greed was unmoved. They then noticed that the far wall of the garden... just didn't exist. Instead, a forest path meandered deeper into trees, which gradually took on the colors of autumn. The party had located another entrance to the Indoornesse.
  • The party resolved to enter the demiplane again, leaving their phantom allies behind. Boroth noticed that, as he entered, his awareness of the castle's vampires diminished, then disappeared entirely. 
  • They took the fork in the road leading east, and came upon rolling hills in a huge clearing. A great flock of sheep grazed as a young shepherd slept in the shade of a boulder, but on closer inspection, the sheep were not what they seemed. In fact, many had sharp teeth and evil eyes, while some were, plainly, wolves disguised as sheep.
  • The party used a whistle to wake the shepherd from afar as his flock stalked towards them. The flock immediately went back to grazing, and the party engaged the shepherd in conversation.
  • Noting the strangeness of the flock, the shepherd insisted they were simply foreign breeds; the Rhodesian Longear, well-known for its fine wool. He informed the party that there was a chapel populated with monks, as well as a pair of hermitages. The monks seemed odd to him, as they always spoke of chastity, peace and brotherly love, but never followed their advice.
  • Longo inquired as to the wool, and purchased some; he promised to come back soon, and asked for enough wool to make a sweater by the time he returned.
  • They followed the shepherd's instructions to reach the closest hermitage. On the way, they came to a bridge, and as they were about to cross, were confronted by a troll which clambered out from underneath.
Troll: I demand booty!
Party: ... excuse us?
Troll: Gold! Gems! Your mother!
Idred: How distasteful.
  • Idred made a bet with the troll, saying that he could give the troll more coins than he could carry. The troll scoffed, as the wizard clearly didn't have very much coinage on him.
  • To which Idred pulled out his Cornucopia of Coins, and used a couple charges to blow out over a thousand copper pieces. This amounted to quite little in the way of gold, but, the troll couldn't keep all the loose coinage without spilling some. Idred declared victory, and the troll allowed them passage. But he also swore vengeance on the tricksy wizard.
  • They finally arrived at the hermitage, a cave not unlike that of the satyr Bumble. This one, however, was inhabited by a human, who welcomed the party.
  • Corby recognized him quickly. This was none other than Father Chlodowig, the former parish priest of Tours-en-Savoy, who was excommunicated and went missing months before. They asked him questions at length, which he answered noncommittally. He offered the party a chance to rest the night in the cave with him; the sun was perpetually overhead in the Indoornesse, which was altogether exhausting.
  • Estimating that they had spent a good deal of time inside the demiplane already, they agreed to take the opportunity and rest. They received a great deal of strange advice from the hermit, and Corby spent time speaking with him alone. It turned out that Father Chlodowig was able to shine a great deal of light on the changes in faith Corby was experiencing. He even offered Corby a silver coin, apparently an item of some significance to his sect.
  • The next 'day' they awoke, but the quality of rest in a demiplane where the sun is always shining is quite poor. They bade Chlodowig farewell and travelled further into his cave. At the end, there were a set of rough stone steps leading up. As they climbed, Boroth recovered his vamp-sense.
  • Triangulating his location using the positions of the entombed vampires, he determined they were in the northwest sector of the basement dungeon... and that Maltricia was on the dungeon level as well, to the southeast.
  • They discovered a huge theater, with pews filled with skeletons, apparently inanimate. They ransacked the bodies and the lost-and-found box, recovering a wealth of valuable items, including a stuffed crocodile that Idred immediately claimed for himself.
  • As they were leaving, however, the exit was blocked by a party of undead gentlemen, at the head of which walked a ghost in frilly costume. This was Frederic Malevol, the family thespian. As it happened, Longo was a great fan of the theater, and managed to distract Frederic from their intrusion with talk of the theater. Then Frederic offered Longo a chance to perform on the stage.
  • It turned out to not be a request. Frederic jumped into Longo's body, and the thief failed his save. Frederic puppeted Longo about, reciting bits and pieces of various plays while prancing about to the amusement of the undead gentlemen. Then he did the same to Idred.
"Tristano, wherefore art thou Tristano?"
  • The affair came to an end when the ghost tried the same trick with Boroth, but the save succeeded, and he bounced off the fighter like he was a brick wall. The party excused themselves politely with their loot, and ran off.
  • They recovered their bearings, and found an exit to the ground floor, discovering a secret door that led them back to the perfumed giant frog.
Longo: Was this the frog Ranucci pretended to speak to?
Idred; No, that was the other giant frog.
GM: loves this module
  • Back in familiar territory, the party wound their way back into the dungeons, sneaking towards Maltricia's position.
  • She was imprisoned in the dungeon cells, which the party had discovered before, but had been unable to pick the lock and enter. This time, Longo earned his keep, and the door to the cells swung open.
  • There were several people imprisoned here, all of them humans from outside the Castle who tried to loot it. One of them, Melvin, desperately offered to tell the party all about the cells and their occupants in exchange for his freedom. He was ignored. 
  • Then they found Maltricia. She was in terrible shape, her clothes torn, half her face petrified, and locked in a cell warded against her gaseous form. When the party made their presence known, she hissed and cursed at them, and they responded by tossing a few of their sunstones into her cell. 
  • Unable to escape the sunlight, she tried to throw them back out, and Idred tried to stop her. That was when the wizard failed his save vs hypnosis. He already had his deadly Wand of Cold in his hand, the same weapon that destroyed Maltricia's husband, and it was now trained on the party.
  • Corby came to the rescue with a timely turning, cowing Maltricia into submission and forcing her to break the hypnosis. Still, the party had no intention of letting her live. Carefully avoiding her gaze, Idred pulled out his Wand of the Marshlands, and summoned a Shambling Mound inside Maltricia's cell while their hireling Kaleb used his magic pipe to summon a swarm of rats.
  • Maltricia responded with a summons of her own, a swarm of vampire bats, which harangued the party, but the deed was done. She was a vampiress, but her regeneration was nullified by the sunstones, and her cell prevented her escape. She was a powerful sorceress, but her most potent spells would have no effect or would outright heal the mound, and in any case, unleashing them in the cell would surely destroy her instead.
  • It wasn't a fair fight. The Vampire Countess of Xyntillan fell under the tentacles of a shambling mound and the gnawing mouths of thirty rats. The party finished her off with time to spare, staking, decapitating and burning the body. They saved one of her femurs, though, as Claude had requested they bring a bone from a Malevol family member if the opportunity arose.
  • Only after disposing of Maltricia fully did it occur to the party that they had three witnesses to their killing.
  • That was where we left the session, with the party debating what to do about Melvin and the other witnesses in the cells. Objective after long-sought objective have been accomplished, but the end to their journey remains elusive. What will come of Maltricia's slaying? Why does Claude want a Malevol bone? And what was that silver coin? All this and more in the next session of Castle Xyntillan!

Their hireling Kaleb had the Pipes of the Sewers, apparently an actual magic item in the S&W book. It summons a whole lotta rats. I happened to have no idea how to adjudicate that many rats. Are they a swarm? What are their stats? In the end, I just decided that I wasn't going to roll out the whole combat. The party had taken all their precautions, their journey to the Beast had resulted in their target being trapped and weakened, and they had her trapped with creatures she couldn't reasonably destroy. It was over.

I remarked on this when the party fought a shambling mound, but holy crap they are tough. Not just that, but their resistances make them excellent mage killers.

I wish that I had started the campaign keeping track of alignment in some rigorous way, maybe with pips. The business with the trophy animals and their eyes was nasty, but their decision in the next session about what to do regarding the witnesses to Maltricia's death will test the party's fiber.\

Next Chapter: Relics of the King

Monday, January 18, 2021

Iron, Amber, Wood and Bone: Using Courtly Rings In Your Game

I was just rereading A Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss and fixated on a particular bit of worldbuilding: the courtly rings of the nation of Vintas. I think it's an elegant little system which can be brought to any number of fantasy worlds, especially if the campaign involves courtly plotting. I'm planning to use this in a limited capacity in my Castle Xyntillan game, which is rapidly reaching its crescendo.

Each ring is carved or forged from a particular material, and is inscribed on the front with the name of the ring's owner.

Here are the rings and their different meanings.

The Metal Rings: Gold, Silver and Iron

The main three rings employed in courtly politics. Gold is given to your superiors, silver to your equals, and iron to your inferiors. In a strictly hierarchical courtly setting, this is quite simple and easy; a duke sends iron to a count, sends silver to a fellow duke, and sends gold to a king; the king sends nothing but iron, and receives naught but gold, of course.

This delightfully simple system becomes woefully complicated on collision with reality. Some people occupy multiple courtly positions, formal and informal; what ring do you send to one who is your vassal, but who by the whim of birth outranks you in another territory? What about a person who occupies a lowly position by birth, but has the close confidence of the king? 

The giving of the metal rings, then, can be a major vector of political intrigue. Sending gold indicates submission; sending silver implies a sense of equality; sending iron indicates a feeling of superiority, the implicit demand that you must be obeyed.

The Nonmetal Rings

In contrast to the rings of gold, silver and iron, rings made from organic materials are not in active circulation in courtly politics. They are an antiquated relic from the origin of the ring-giving tradition, when peasants would give each other rings made from whatever materials were on hand, every material with its own symbol and meaning in different regions.

Still, a few of these meanings are kept alive by plays and folk tradition. These are treated individually. If your players receive or give a ring such as these, something very unusual must have occurred. 


Rings of horn indicate powerful and lasting enmity. If this is given or received, assume a feud will begin if it hasn't already. It takes time and effort to carve a horn ring, and they would not be used except in the most grievous cases.


Rings of gone indicate a profound and lasting debt; not merely monetary, but often a life-debt. These are traditionally carved from the bones of a dead relative, although it is not necessary to do so. if the party truly saves a person from sure death or ruin, they may be presented with such a ring.


Traditionally, rings of wood were part of the same courtly system as metal rings. They were given to those of lower station, but who were too low to be treated with an iron ring. After all, a highly stationed noble could not use the same item to send for another noble of lesser status and to send for a stablemaster. 

Over time, the stigma associated with the wooden ring caused it to fall out of favor; if one servant received iron and another received wood, it was taken as a sign of great displeasure and a source of great offense for the recipient. in the modern day then, wooden rings barely exist except in plays, and they represent extraordinary hatred; the implication is that the sender does not regard them as a human being.

Other Rings

Two other ring types are extant, though they remain peasant traditions; rings of green grass are given to one you hope to court, while rings of leather are given to one to indicate you are at their service; this might be the ancient counterpart to the wooden ring.

Rings Unseen

Besides the rings listed above, the Kingkiller Chronicles mentions another ring tradition: powerful mages who have learned the name of a particular element forge a ring from it. These may be made of stone or metal, but just as often of fire or wind. If your party encounter a wizard wearing a ring of fire, they can be sure they are seeing a master of fire magic.

Uses of Rings

Giving and Receiving Rings

In courtly politics, rings are often sent with summons, letters and requests, both as proof of the sender and as an indicator of relative courtly standing. There are various courtly proceedings with regard to whether or not one should keep the ring, and how to return it. Typically, one should offer to return it. If the offer is made to keep the ring (servants and runners are to communicate this subtly), then one should do so, unless one wishes to insult the sender. Keeping a ring demonstrates some connection and courtesy between parties.

Wearing a Ring

To wear a ring indicates more than courtesy, but familiarity with the sender. If the sender is one's patron or superior, wearing their gold ring shows that one is vying for favor by obviously marking oneself with their sign and name. Wearing a silver ring indicates close collaboration and friendship among equals, while wearing an iron ring indicates special favor or gratitude for a particular subordinate. 

For the nonmetal rings, wearing a ring of horn shows that you accept the enmity and its consequences. If the sender then kills the wearer in broad daylight, it will at least be seen as a duel instead of a murder. It is an open invitation to violence.

Wearing a ring of bone demonstrates that a particular person owes you a serious debt. It can be insensitive to expose this to public scrutiny; it may be seen as a blunt demand for that debt to be repaid.

Wearing a ring of wood is so demeaning no oneself as to be inconceivable. Your players may do so anyway out of sheer spite.

In Play

Metal rings, owing to their expense, are likely not in common use outside of noble courts. If your party has occasion to deal with a court, these rings can be a little courtly practice with which to bamboozle them. They serve as a simple and intuitive symbol for courtly politics. Who is wearing rings, who isn't, whose, what kind, and so on.

As mentioned above, they may receive nonmetal rings as a result of significant actions helping or harming a person or family. it's one thing for an NPC to express deep gratitude; another for them to offer a PC a ring carved from the bone of their dead grandparent.

It's one thing for an NPC to swear enmity, another for them to send the PCs a ring of horn, to audible gasps and faints by other NPCs.

If the party has to deal with a noble, all the better for them to arrive wearing the ring of their patron or close ally. Your party aren't just a band of murderhobos, they're an integrated element of your world's power systems, so others had better watch their step.

If you enjoyed what you read here, make sure to follow the blog and share the post! Leave your comments down below. Until the next post, have an excellent week!

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Making and Using True Names in Your Campaign

Last summer, I started and finished A Wizard of Earthsea in a single night. It was very good.

It recalls my favorite fantasy novels from childhood and young adulthood, such as the Skullduggery Pleasant books, which I now recognize were inspired in large part by LeGuin. I was especially taken with how she depicted True Names. So, of course, I took it upon myself to work true names into my game. This isn't quite going to be Earthsea rules, as creating a really faithful depiction would require lots of special rules and wouldn't translate well outside the setting, but here's a quick gloss.

Everything has a True Name, and knowing it gives you power over that thing. Learning the names of common and notable things, such as a certain species of flower, or a particular bay, are part and parcel of a spellcaster's studies. But the true names of specific individuals, whether humans, spirits or others, are obscure and hidden, even to themselves. 

Learning your own true name is difficult and dangerous, but very rewarding. If another person learns it, either from you or on their own, they hold great power over you, to help and to heal. Be careful who you give it out to.

Illustration on the "Earthsea Quartet" cover - Science Fiction ...

I wanted to work true names into my own games, but wasn't quite sure how until I read an old post by Rick Stump, Names, True Names and Magic. In Stump's old campaigns, characters had both a True Name, bestowed at birth and known only by those very close to them, and a Day Name or Friend Name used by everyone else. Further, the Day Name might be changed at certain points in one's life, such as becoming master of a craft. 

This not only opens the door to all sorts of weird names, but it expands our options.

Broadly, Stump and LeGuin offer two views of True Names:

The Arcane Name

True Names are unknown to their bearer unless bestowed by a powerful magical authority or discovered through great effort. They are entrusted only with extreme caution, and can be used to help or harm the bearer through invoking them alone.

Learning the Arcane Name

Making a journey to the land of the dead and speaking to the ghost of a sage there. Make sure to pick out a thoughtful gift, and take care to not lose it along the way.

Asking for one's true name as a divine boon. If the party has just completed a quest of note for a god, a character would be within their bounds to refuse other reward in exchange for knowledge of their true name. Any real god would be able to provide such knowledge.

A Magic-User or Cleric of 12th level or greater may have access to the True Naming spell, which has the following properties.

True Naming
Spell Level: Cleric, Magic-User, 6th level
Range: See below
Duration: Permanent

By casting this spell through an hour-long ceremony, the caster may learn the true name of the target. If this is done with the consent and presence of the target, it works automatically, and both the caster and target learn the name. Otherwise, it may be performed remotely with a piece of the target, such as a lock of hair, and the target both receives a Save and is immediately aware of a magical attack upon them. It further requires 100gp in sacrificial components particular to the caster, such as a dozen prize goats, rare spices from distant lands, dust of precious gems, etc. This works on undead and magical creatures, but not on the peaceful dead.

Some might protest that an Arcane Name should not be bought like this. I would reply, how many 12th level clerics and magic users are floating around your campaign world? Hopefully not too many. If the players get it in their heads to go on pilgrimage to a powerful wizard or holy ma in order to learn their true names, they will have to deal with that figure's eccentricities, raise the money for the sacrifical materials, and may be sent on some quests to be proven worthy of the boon. That's a kickass quest hook.

Likewise if the party can't find any casters of that level, but a party member takes it upon themselves to become the most powerful caster they can in order to bestow this boon upon themselves and their enemies, that's a great long-term goal for a character to have. 

Uses Your Own Arcane Name

Learning one's Arcane Name should have some noticeable effect, and be desireable. Here's a few options for what an Arcane Name could do.

1. You become utterly assured in your personal identity, becoming immune to mind-affecting spells.
2. You can call your own name back from death. If you would die, instead survive with 0 hit points once a day.
3. You can call upon your name once a day to automatically succeed on a Save, make an attack, or otherwise succeed on a roll after you have failed. 

Uses of Another's Arcane Name

Learning another's true name gives you power over them, to heal or to harm. Again, take the below options as suggestions, although you could use more than one.

Calling someone with their true name ensures they hear you, regardless of the distance, volume or other factors, as long as you remain on the same plane of existence.

Reviving a person's whose true name you know with Reincarnation allows the caster to choose the form they return in. Using Raise Dead with a true name allows the target to return automatically, although a recovery period will still be necessary.

Using another's true name to harm them allows one to bypass defenses granted by the name. If that person does not know their own true name allows one to do one of the following once a day: cast a spell on them without a save, automatically strike with an attack, force them to make a Morale roll. 

The Birth Name

True Names are known to their bearer and to others close by at birth, such as parents, siblings, godparents, village priest, etc. They are not widely used, but they are neither so dangerous. Knowledge of a creature's True Name in a spell can be used to bypass magical defenses.

True Names are more commonly known and less potent, but are still guarded. 

From Rick Stump's Mage Guild: if you know the true name of your target they make all saves vs. your spells at -4 and any magic resistance is cut in half. 

Stealing a True Name

True Names are closely kept in any case, and stealing them is not easy. Magical compulsion to steal a Name from them has the following penalties, again from Stump: asking a Charmed target their true name gives them an immediate save at +4; if using ESP the target gets a saving throw to keep their own true name unavailable to the caster.

This applies both to one's own Name and those of others. Best not to publicize what you do and don't know.

Creating True Names

My initial draft of this post suggested a roundabout method using random word generators to create strange True Names like 'Jexago Phwlcyf'.

That's very silly. If you have an idea of what True Names should sound like in your setting — whether they should be ordinary names, fantasy-sounding, in a particular language, etc, feel free to make them up yourself. If you take a freer hand, your players will likely enjoy coming up with their own. 

They might end up being really weird. It's okay, not everyone can be named Ged.

You may wish to assign True Names to characters as they are rolled up, in secret from players, or to come up with them as they are discovered. Either works. 

More on Day Names

Stump really got me thinking with the distinction between True and Day names. Between the options above, I gravitate towards the Arcane Name more, but I can see using that alongside a distinction between Birth and Day Names as well. There's the name you were born with and which is used only by those close to you, the name you use in public (which may include honorifics and titles) and which will likely change throughout your life from a childhood nickname to an apprenticehood title to a self-bestowed name when you become a master of what you do.

If you enjoyed what you read here, make sure to follow the blog and share the post! Leave your comments down below. Until the next post, have an excellent week!

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Rime of the Frostmaiden Sessions 4 and 5: Monster Hunts

In the last session, the party traveled to Dougan's Hole and dealt with the winter wolves and mammoth there. Now, they head to Bremen to hand over the chwinga to the wizard Dzaan and investigate reports of strange dreams and voices.

Icewind Dale has been under a spell of endless winter for the last two years! Auril the Frostmaiden, goddess of winter's fury, has made her home in the Dale, and all suffer for it. As the land and its people die, a caravan brings a strange group to the Dale. They will change its fate, but to call them heroes may be inaccurate...

The Party
Avar, a Human Enchantment Wizard. Modeled after Rasputin, has a knack with owlbears. 
Elton John, Neutral Goblin Celestial Warlock. Fabulous, with a dark past. 
Neddie Elyeti, Neutral Bugbear Druid. Raised among the yeti of Icewind Dale. 
ORK, Neutral Half-Orc Barbarian raised among the Many-Arrows tribe of Icewind Dale. 
Stughok, Neutral Bugbear Rogue, in Icewind Dale to free an old friend from prison.

Handed over the chwinga
Established rapport with Nessie
Participated in a wrestling tournament
Made peace with Trex's kobolds
Slew the grell in the mines
Discovered and Attuned to the psi crystal
Reached Level 4!

The Game
  • The party departed from Dougan's Hole, setting course for Bremen. Along the way, they learned from a Bryn Shander deputy that a fisher in Targos had been murdered, and resolved to investigate. They sold off the remorhaz residue and the strange metal shards, which Stughok stole back. While on his invisible crime spree, he spotted a set of tracks made by invisible humanoids heading out of Bryn Shander and towards Kelvin's Cairn.
  • In the morning, their theft of the metal was covered by a larger pattern of petty thefts, including of the Northlook Tavern's stained-glass lamp. 
  • In Targos, they pulled the same trick, with Elton John disguising himself as Douglas Dwarf, selling the shards, then stealing them back that night. They also made contact with the son of the local innkeeper, who claimed to hear voices in his head when sparks appeared in the sky.
  • In Targos, they contacted the wizard Dzaan, bumping into another party of adventurers led by a red-haired woman leaving his home. They turned over the chwinga to him, and were handed a quick job to investigate the local lake monster.

  • After nearly getting their boat capsized, and learning that the party druid had a -1 in Nature, they spoke with the monster, dubbed Nessy, which turned out to have been awakened by a frost druid. The druid's name was Ravisin, and she was seen in the company of a white moose. The monster was attacking ships on her orders in the name of the Frostmaiden. The party left it to its own devices and faked the destruction of their rowboats. 
  • Dzaan was not pleased by the vagueness of their report, and gave them another job: travel to the top of Kelvin's Cairn and investigate the structure there. The party was miffed about their low pay, and Avar was concerned about what Dzaan would do with the chwinga. Together, they began to plot his demise, though they would hold off until they got paid.
  • They then returned to Targos to investigate the murder. The fisherman, Drebber, was known to be a member of the local underground fight club. They headed to the docks, and ORK got approached by a halfling in fancy clothes.
Promoter: Hey kid, ya wanna be a star?
Party: Does he have a Ron Edwards mustache?
GM: Yes.
  • They were led to an abandoned warehouse, filled to the brim with people and a raised ring in the center. Avar stayed invisible, spying, while Elton John made bets on the matches, and both ORK and Neddie got pulled behind the curtain to prepare. The leader of the fight club, a big game hunter named Mylbor Tafferac, sauntered on stage and riled up the crowd. 
  • The first match was Many-Arrows vs the Dead Three. Many Arrows was the stage name ORK had been given. Dead Three was a cultist, wavering from side to side as if drunk, until ORK gave him a punch and he... fell apart, revealing three halflings in a robe. They dodged and jumped around him, but ORK crushed them one by one and threw them into the crowd.
  • The next match was against the Chopper, a big human lumberjack. The fight was almost even, blood spurting all over the place, teeth spilling on the ring, but ORK again took the upper hand.
  • The final match was against the reigning champion, The Monolith. An eight foot-tall woman with grey, stony skin, a goliath, in a fur bikini. ORK was finally outmatched, getting knocked down, then getting back up with his half-orc resilience, only to be knocked down again. His hand dangled outside the ring, and Neddie tapped in, facing down The Monolith to save his friend. 
  • It turns out, an unathletic bugbear is really no match for a goliath at the top of her game, and she lifted him into the air and nearly broke his ribcage with a piledriver. Even when ORK, impossibly, got up a third time, he was simply thrown bodily into the stands.
  • ORK refused to leave, and the ringleader had to come down and slap some sense into him, physically dragging the half-orc backstage.
  • Elton John had made a killing on bets, and was directed to join them. He found all the fighters relaxing, with no serious injuries. The fight had been staged, all the blood and broken bones were special effects by prestidigitators, with Neddie and ORK coached to lose for drama. Of course, they had decided to go off script to manipulate the bets, and lost their share of revenue as a result.
  • At the same time, Ned had fallen head-over-heels in love with The Monolith, actually named Kwan, who was trying to pay off her massive gambling debts. 
Neddie: Only one other woman has ever treated me so cruelly, and that is my Lady. When you broke by ribs, you won my heart.
Kwan: *very uncomfortable*
  • Mylbor banned ORK and Ned from future contests, but gave them the information they were looking for. Drebber was worried about the lottery the last month, so Mylbor gave him some money to pay off the clerk so he wouldn't lose a top fighter. Drebber's wife confirmed the story. The party settled on the lottery as the common feature of all the victims. 
  • Their next stop was Termalaine, where the gem mine was shut down owing to a kobold infestation. They settled on payment with the town speaker, covertly bought some pickaxes, then made their way over. 
  • After killing some giant rats, they found what the locals called 'the Pit', a thirty-foot wide hole leading thousands of feet down into the Underdark, the source of the mine's regular infestations. Clearly, the only thing to do would be to jump down into it, hoping to land on a platform thirty feet below. That was exactly what ORK did, and Elton John had to use his Eldritch Blast to push ORK to safety.
  • That was when ORK discovered the kobolds, led by Trex, who was unusually well spoken. The party communicated with them via familiar and made their way through the tunnels to reach ORK's position.
  • Once reunited, they discovered that the kobolds had come from above, not below, and they had only wanted to seek employment with the miners, not scare them away. The party made a deal with them to negotiate with the people of Termalaine.
  • Their familiars spotted some large gem deposits and a strange fossil across the pit, accessible via rope and pulleycart. Avar jumped in and made it halfway across when a grell appeared from above and struck.

  • Avar managed to reach the other side, but the party's options were limited; ORK in particular had no ranged options! The spellcasters made do with Flaming Spheres, but the situation became dure when the grell struck a critical hit against Avar, paralyzing him with its venom and entangling him in it tentacles. He was on the other side of the pit, and the grell floated down into the darkness with him in tow.
  • ORK jumped down onto it, releasing Avar, and managed to avoid tumbling to his death by grabbing onto the wall. Elton John saved the day, using his Flaming Sphere to slay the abomination, and using his familiar to float a rope over to the two of them.
  • With the threat dealt with, Avar finally went for his goal, the skull, which they identified as the fossilized skull of a mind flayer. In prying it out of the wall, they cracked it, and found a huge gem inside. Avar took it and...licked it, before deciding to attune as soon as possible.
  • The session ended there, with the party promising to help the kobolds integrate, wondering what the crystal does, and looking to investigate both the druids in Lonelywood and the structure atop Kelvin's Cairn. Find out more in the next session of Icewind Dale, Rime of the Frostmaiden!

The fourth session was relatively uneventful, involving a lot of travel, and in particular discussion about where to travel. Much time was also spent dealing with shenanigans in the cities, which allowed me to improvise a bit of foreshadowing of another subplot. Still, the Lake Monster encounter was much less impactful than I hoped. It was near the end of the session, so I skipped the skill challenge associated with it. I don't think that would have improved the encounter. I suppose there just wasn't a conflict with my group once they learned that the monster was sapient and was operating 'for the Frostmaiden.'

The fight club quest was wholly homebrewed as a setpiece of the ongoing murder investigation, sicne I'm diverging so much from the book here. This also replaced the ordinary Targos quest, which is very strangely placed. It was a one-off thing, a bit silly, but fun.

Two-session reports seem like the way to go, especially now that I have more games going on. 

I'm doing level advancement by milestone, as prescribed in the book. Holy cow advancement is fast. Second level after the first session, third after the third, fourth after the fifth. I wondered when starting the adventure if reaching 12th level was plausible based on the length of time I could run the campaign. Now I have less worry. My baseline for level advancement was set by my Castle Xyntillan campaign, which is many times slower, excepting a couple huge finds.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Castle Xyntillan Session 30: In The Beast's Court

In the last session, the party exited the court of Judge Roberto Malevol victorious, negotiated with the succubus Serpentina Malevol in her very chambers, and began their journey to the Maze of the Occult, where they sought the Beast. Also, Longo got lycanthropy and Corby picked up a not-at-all-suspicious helmet. Will they continue to seek the Beast? Will they be able to take on the vampiress Maltricia Malevol? And what the hell was that helmet?  All this and more in this week's session of Castle Xyntillan!

The Party

Longo Lightfoot, Halfling Thief, wears a sky-blue headscarf. Played by CaptainSabatini.
Corby the Joyful, Human Cleric of Sucellus, wears a magical horned helm. Played by diregrizzlybear.
Idred the Most Omniscient, Human MU, wears a full-visored greathelm. Played by David Perry.
Boroth Swinney the Joyous, Human Fighter, wears a masked helm depicting a happy human face. Played by Justin Hamilton.
Francois, Light Footman, noticeably dogless. 
Clovis, Heavy Footman.
Jorg, Lightbearer
Yessica, Arbalist
Kaleb, Arbalist with a nose for booze and a magic pipe
Eric, Light Footman and cart driver.
Oscar, Arbalist of unusual strength
LaBeouf, Camp Cook.
Raymond, Mule.

Clovis, pecked to death by a giant stuffed owl

Emerald ring, 700gp
Institutional support

The Game
  • The session began where the last left off. The party had just slain the gelatinous cube, Corby had placed the horned helm on his head... and nothing much happened.
  • After verifying that at least their cleric hadn't gone stark raving mad, they continued their exploration of the northwest quarter. They poked through the corridors and empty rooms until they found a storage closet filled with dirty, moldy clothes, with a sword sticking out of a particularly large pile.
  • Longo was convinced that whoever pulled the sword out would become king of England, but found that the sword was just stuck in the body of a dandy underneath all those clothes.
  • After some more poking around, they found their original goal: a staircase leading up to the second floor of the castle. Unfortunately, the staircase was located in a taxidermist's nightmare: a room filled with stuffed animals, many of them destroyed, but some still intact. They stepped in, and the animals came to life, shambling forward.
  • Longo took the initiative and turned the animated taxidermies away with the hammer and sickle. A boar and a few vicious baby deer fled the room, but the party still had to contend with a lion, giant owl and a centaur.
  • The party took down the centaur swiftly, and Boroth and Corby took on the lion in close quarters while the hirelings focused on the owl. It was the real threat, and in the first turn it pecked Clovis the Heavy Footman to death, and used its hypnotic gaze to immobilize Hilda. 
  • Still, the party defeated the wicked taxidermies without further casualties. Francois and Caleb both insisted that the party turn back now, but they were not heeded. With the boar and deer soon returning, they made the decision to leave Clovis' body with hasty last rites and ascend the stairs.
  • They found themselves in a trophy room, staring down the statue of a cyclops. Which stepped off the pedestal and demanded bones in rhyme. The party was unwilling to fight such a large creature outright, and promised to find some bones for it to chew on.
  • Then they heard footsteps coming up from behind. Slow, shambling, tentative footsteps. The animated corpse of Clovis the Heavy Footman crested the stairs. 

Idred: Corby, how did you mess up his last rites this badly?
  •  Clovis' remains still obeyed the party, and after some discussion, they decided to feed him to the cyclops. The party turned away as the corpse walked over to the giant, and they heard a long series of crunching, snapping and slurping noises. 
  • When they turned back, nothing remained, and the cyclops allowed them passage. Remembering Claude's words about the secret passages on this level, they asked the cyclops, which pointed them to the fireplace.
  • They passed into a great, dark library, and swapped their torch for a sunstone. They found some interesting titles on the shelves, such as 'Leget Manor' and 'Against the Nasty Evils', but they constantly heard wheezing and shuffling from behind them. Longo spied blood-covered phantoms in a mirror, but they were invisible to his sight. 
  • Corby went for his standard fare and turned them. To his surprise, the turning did not banish, but materialized the specters, which knelt before him and announced their loyalty. They were the cursed dead who built the castle, massacred to keep secret its construction.
  • Corby kept three of the phantoms with him, while several more stayed behind. Corby also promised to exorcise them, and so end their suffering.
  • They exited the library and passed into a room covered in half-painted pictures, nesting materials and bird guano. They found an emerald ring in a dismembered armored gauntlet. In an adjacent room, they saw Bartholomew Malevol, the family artist, engrossed in his latest, bawdy work. They left him well alone.
  • A noise, an entrancing song, sounded from outside, and the party put on their wax ear blockers. They hurried out of the room at the same time that a clutch of harpies came in, barely missing them. 
  • Further on, the phantoms pointed out a door which they knew led to the Beast's throne room. However, they also knew some trap was in the way, though they knew not what.
  • While Longo opened their way, Corby heard the footsteps to the west, which one phantom reported as the approach of undead ladies. Corby walked over alone and headed them off. The undead harridans recognized Corby and insulted him relentlessly, commanding him to leave the castle and return to his hovel, or else. Corby turned them, and they fell to their knees, apologizing to 'Lord Corby' and returning from whence they came.

I was born in the cemetery
Under the sign of the moon
Raised from my grave by the dead
I was made a mercenary
In the legions of Hell
Now I'm king of pain, I'm insane

  • Within was a room of mirrors, large and small, covering everything but the floor and ceiling. the party all did their best to avoid looking at anything, and they observed the revolving door that led beyond. Some poking with a pole informed them that it was not obviously trapped, but as it turned they heard a posh voice from within ask for their help.
  • The party all put on blindfolds and moved through the door, two by two. The last pair heard the voice again, begging them to shatter the mirror and set him free, and they promised to do so on their way back.
  • The party had finally reached the Beast's hall. Plush red carpeting led to a golden door, which bore a golden lock which would be opened by a golden key. The party did not have a golden key, and so resorted to knocking.
  • They announced themselves, and the golden doors opened. A pair of animated armors stood beyond with crossed polearms, and at the end of a long, royal carpet, the Beast sat on his throne. backlit by a halo of hellfire.
  • Idred bowed, and the party with him. They presented their plea, along with the letters from the Judge and from Claude Malevol. The Beast was made aware of Maltricia's scheming and the distorted Will of Aristide.
  • The Beast roared in anger, shaking the very stones of the castle, and his infernal halo expanded, searing the party. When he regained control, he curtly thanked the party, and dismissed them. Their help was appreciated, but this was a family matter, and from here would be attended to by the family.
  • Idred, who was under a suggestion to kill Maltricia, had the sinking feeling that the Beast might not go for the death penalty.
  • The Beast began to pen a letter, the party left before they were tossed out, and the session ended there, having just gotten their dearest wish, legitimating Claude's rule and turning the second most powerful creature in the Castle against Maltricia… but it wasn't enough. The party resolved to exit the castle, rest and recuperate, then return to finish the job.
  • How will the Beast punish Maltricia? Will the party interfere? Whence comes Corby's sudden and convenient power-up? All this and more in the next session of Castle Xyntillan!

The big three-oh! Thirty sessions and the better part of a year have passed since the campaign began, and not only does it seem fit to continue for some months more, the dice have deigned to shake up the campaign's status quo a bit. It's always nice when things come together.

The party, and especially their hireling, have been very survivable in the past, largely due to luck and refusing a fair fight. Clovis' sudden and unexpected death is very useful for keeping the party on their toes. It's a good thing, they haven't told their hirelings about the resurrection potions they're carrying about, or they'd never hear the end of it.

Absolutely nothing suspicious is happening with Corby.

Next Chapter: The Countess' End

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Intro Statistics for RPGs: Cyberpunk's Weird Dice Math

In yet another fit of pique, I got into running Cyberpunk Red. I'm enjoying the system, and now that my Castle Xyntillan game is back in rotation after holidays, I expect that I'll be able to run three games a week thanks to its low prep time.

A some months ago, I wrote Intro Statistics for RPGs: The Wheaton Dice Curse, since I had started my study of statistics. I have continued in force since then, and now I want to treat a much simpler topic

Today's lesson is a quick look at how Cyberpunk Red's dice mechanics create an unusual, discontinuous mass function.

Mass Functions

In statistics, the function which describes the probability of a given result of a discrete random variable is called the Probability Mass Function, or PMF. For continuous random variables, the term is Probability Density Function, PDF, but that's not what we're looking at today.

There are also Cumulative Mass Functions, which describe not the chances of getting any particular result, but the chances of being above a particular result. This is what we are looking to create.

Cyberpunk Red runs on d10s and d6s, though for our purposes, we're just interested in d10s. Dice are very simple random variables, ideally having a Uniform distribution. We're interested not in these objects, but in the chance of success they influence. However, Cyberpunk Red's dice are not simple uniform RVs. We'll get into the reasons why in a moment.

The cumulative mass function of Cyberpunk's dice takes this form:
P(X>x) = P(Y>(x-C))
Where X is the end result of the roll, the sum of C and Y, Y is a function describing the behavior of the dice, x is the integer Difficulty Value, and C is an integer constant, described below as the Base.

That's a whole lot of effort to say, 'the chance of beating a certain number is the same as the chance of getting more than the difference of the DV and your Base.' The use of specifying like this is that we can make some nice looking graphs that make it easier to see what's going on.


In Cyberpunk, stats range from 2 to 8, with some options to raise them higher, such as with grafted muscles increasing the Body stat no further than 10. Skills range from 0 to 10. A starting character will have their best skills no higher than a 6. 

Cyberpunk Red's action resolution involves a dice roll that looks like 1d10+Base. Base is a combination of your skill rank and the stat associated with that skill. For example, shooting handguns is under the Handguns skill, which is attached to the Reflex stat. It's not unusual for starting characters to have a Base of 12 or more in a few skills which they use often.

That said, for our purposes, Base will also include situational modifiers, such as a -2 for not having the right tools, and also Luck. Luck is a stat, but instead of having associated skills or derived attributes, it serves as a pool of points which can be added to any roll. If you have a Luck score of 7, you have seven points to add to any of your rolls, which are regained only in the following session.

Non-Uniform Dice

Remember when I said above that Cyberpunk's dice aren't actually Uniform RVs? That's because of the dice explosion mechanic. Here's the PMF of rolling a certain number on Cyberpunk's d10.

In Cyberpunk Red, rolling a 10 is a critical success, and rolling a 1 is a critical failure. However, that does not mean that 10s automatically succeed and 1s automatically fail. When you roll either of those numbers, you roll the die again. If this was a critical success, you add the second roll to your total, while if it was a critical failure, you subtract. So you may roll a 1, then roll a 10, which means your total will be 9 fewer than your Base, including Luck and modifiers. 

This also means it is impossible to roll a 10 or a 1 on the dice alone.

It is actually possible to succeed even in the worst case by having a high enough Base and/or low enough Difficulty Value. And it is possible to fail in the best case with the inverse. 

But remember, unlike D&D's Difficulty Classes (DCs) which must be met or beaten to succeed on a task, Cyberpunk's Difficulty Values (DVs) must be beaten. Rolling a 13 on a DV13 check is a failure. 

The result is that, at certain points relative to the DV, increasing your base through Luck or decreasing it through negative modifiers actually has no effect on your chances of success.

For example, we have below the CMF of succeeding on a DV17 roll based on your Base. If your Base is a 16, then expending a point of luck to increase it to 17 is pointless*. Your chance of success is 90% either way. Likewise, there is no difference between a Base of 7 or 8. Your chance of success is 10%.

This is because of the dice explosion mechanic: if you have a DV17 check and a Base of 16, you will get an 18 or higher on any roll of a 2 or more, 90% chance. If you roll a 1, then you will end up subtracting at least 1 point from that, such that it is impossible to roll a total which is exactly 1 above your base. But if you have a Base 17, you still need to roll a 2 or better; if you roll a 1, you will end up subtracting at least 1, at best getting you to 17, and likely lower.

Similarly, this means that Base scores greater than the DV and less than 10-DV have greatly diminishing returns from modifiers. If you're in the main body range of (DV-9) =< x =< (DV-1) then increases and decreases to other points in that range result in 10% changes to success rate for each point of modification. But just beyond that range, the probabilities plateau, and beyond that, each point buys just a 1% increase or decrease in success rate.

The simple version of all this for use at the table is that it's not worthwhile to push your Base beyond DV-1 using a limited resource. You're already at 90%, further improvements are a tenth as valuable as they would be in riskier rolls. 

*The exception to this is in cases where not only succeeding, but beating the DV by a certain margin, matters. Ordinarily, this is not the case, but Autofire rolls in Cyberpunk Red deal different amounts of damage based on how much you beat the DV.

The Cumulative Relationship

Do the two graphs above look weirdly similar somehow? That's because the Cumulative Mass Function, CMF, is the sum of the PMF previous to that point. If we were dealing with CDFs and PDFs, the continuous version, then the relationship is not one of sum, but of integral and derivative. That, and the PMF is centered around the mean of 5.5, while the CMF is shifted to the right owing to the position of the DV. 

If you enjoyed what you read here, make sure to follow the blog and share the post! Leave your comments down below. Until the next post, have an excellent week!

Friday, January 1, 2021

Rime of the Frostmaiden Session 3: Big Bad Wolves

In the last sessions, the party arrived in Icewind Dale, got involved in a murder case, tracked down an iron shipment, slew some giants and got involved in local politics. Now, they journey to the benighted town of Dougan's Hole, where rumors tell them huge wolves terrorize travelers and kidnap children.

Icewind Dale has been under a spell of endless winter for the last two years! Auril the Frostmaiden, goddess of winter's fury, has made her home in the Dale, and all suffer for it. As the land and its people die, a caravan brings a strange group to the Dale. They will change its fate, but to call them heroes may be inaccurate...

The Party
Avar, a Human Enchantment Wizard. Modeled after Rasputin, has a knack with owlbears. 
Elton John, Neutral Goblin Celestial Warlock. Fabulous, with a dark past. (Joined session 2)
Neddie Elyeti, Neutral Bugbear Druid. Raised among the yeti of Icewind Dale. (Absent Session 2)
ORK, Neutral Half-Orc Barbarian raised among the Many-Arrows tribe of Icewind Dale. 
Stughok, Neutral Bugbear Rogue, in Icewind Dale to free an old friend from prison.

Found Garagai's Lodge
Slew the mammoth Norsu
Rescued Silja and Finn
Defeated the winter wolf brothers
Reached Level 3!

The Game
  • The party rested in Good Mead following the festivities, and set out for Dougan's Hole. The Good Mead townsfolk cautioned them about the Hole, and the wolves that the party sought to hunt.

  • On the road to Dougan's Hole, they were approached by a hulking, horse-sized figure out of the darkness. They immediately saw that this was no dire wolf, as they had thought. It was a winter wolf, deadly, sapient creatures raised and kept as pets by frost giants. This one approached the party, limping, whimpering and with its tail between its legs.
  • He asked for the party's help, and introduced himself as Koran. The party immediately sprang into action, trying to bandage up his injured leg, but the wolf backed off. He spoke with the party, telling them about how his master, a frost giant named Garagai, beat him and his brother, Kanan, and forced them to kidnap children from the village for Garagai to skin and eat. 
  • Koran asked the party to come to the giant's lodge and rescue the children; that would teach Garagai a lesson, and he would think twice about beating his wolves again.
  • The party agreed, and diverted their course from Dougan's Hole, instead following Koran to the lodge. It was a massive building, much larger even than the mead hall in Good Mead, built entirely of ice, with three huge arching entrances.
  • Along the way, a couple of the party members sensed something following them; another wolf, Koran's brother, but they didn't take any action.
  • Koran told them that the children were through the central arch, and the party entered. The corridor beyond was choked with icicles, and though the bugbears tried to sneak on by, the crunch of snow underfoot gave them away. 
  • Something big and heavy started stomping towards the party. A woolly mammoth came into view, and all of the advance party managed to hide, except for Neddie. 
  • He began to speak with the mammoth, learning that its name was Norsu, and it used to be Garagai mount. Used to be, since Garagai was dead, and had been for a long time now. He had been killed by humans who forced their way into the lodge, and now Norsu was taking revenge. The wolves brought humanoids to the lodge for Norsu to kill, and captured the children so they could slowly freeze to death. 
  • Norsu charged, and the party's efforts to slow him down failed. He gored Neddie with his tusks, and if not for his good reflexes, Neddie would have been stomped into paste. The rest of the party had snuck around nearby, and beat on the mammoth, severely injuring it. 
  • Then Avar stepped forth and used his Hypnotic Gaze on the mammoth. It was entranced, and the fighting stopped. The party considered what to do now that it was pacified, but decided that it would be impractical to take it anywhere. Stughok and ORK lined up and executed the mammoth on the icy ground. 

  • They began to explore the place, finding Garagai's hacked-up corpse encased in a tomb of ice, which they considered melting before they realized there was no treasure inside. They also noticed his throne, carved with a Giant rune. Avar sat on it, and immediately became aware of its magical power. The creature which sat in the throne could call down a blizzard to envelop the lodge and its environs. 
  • They located the children in a cage. The party broke them out, and learned their names were Silja and Finn. They both had some facial deformity, which creeped the party out. 
  • They party found some treasure, including a scrimshaw goat, several huge barrels of whale oil, and some remorhaz residue, which they collected.
  • In the giant's meeting room, hiding under the huge table, they encountered a trio of kobolds, next to a stone chwinga statue. Elton John used his warlock magic to transform from a goblin to a kobold and befriended them. They were overjoyed that Norsu was dead, and that there was another kobold they could speak with. 
  • The kobolds had been traveling through the snow and decided to shelter in the lodge, panicked and hid when they saw the wolves and the mammoth, and while hiding were startled by a chwinga, which they killed. They mentioned to Elton John that they were traveling to find their Lady Arveiaturace. Elton misunderstood them, and thought they were seeking Auril, and told them that Neddie was also a devoted follower of their Lady. When this misunderstanding came to light, the kobolds became antsy and stopped talking.
  • The party realized the whale oil here was very valuable, but the amounts were simply too much to carry out. They settled on taking one barrel and returning to the lodge with more villagers and sleds for the rest. 
  • On their way out of the lodge, they still had to deal with the wolves. They sent the children back inside, and to their dismay, the kobolds also hid. 
  • Koran and Kanan emerged from the darkness together. Koran wasn't limping anymore. They monologued at the party and cursed them for failing to die to Norsu, and attacked. 
  • The winter wolves were deadly opponents, focusing fire on ORK with both fangs and wintery breath weapons. The spellcasters did their best to aid from afar, but it looked bad. 
  • Finally, they managed to bring down Koran. Kanan was already injured, and fled after taking one last swipe at ORK. Thanks to Elton John's healing, ORK was only reduced to 0hp, and was swiftly revived as Kanan ran off into the endless night.

  • The party headed off into the wilderness with the kobolds and children in tow, finding the road again and finally reaching Dougan's Hole. They were welcomed by the entire town... all fifty-odd of them, all of whom looked to be each other's inbred cousins.
  • The whole town was miserable and run down, but it was situated next to a set of megaliths called the Stones of Thruun. The party experimented a bit, but were unable to get any reaction.
  • Silja and Finn's mother rewarded the party with her late husband/brother's Boots of the Winterlands, and the townsfolk negotiated a price for the whale oil and the location of the rest. The party came away with substantially heavier pockets, and more clout with the people of Ten-Towns.
  • The session ended there, with the party sleeping the night in Dougan's Hole, and leveling up as a result! That night, they were also accosted by terrible dreams. But that will have to wait for next time.
  • Next time, the party plans to investigate rumors of strange dreams in Targos, on their way to deliver the chwinga to Dzann. What will they do with their newfound wealth? What terrible dreams are they having? Who is this Lady Arveiaturace the kobolds were on about? All this and more in the next session of Icewind Dale, Rime of the Frostmaiden!

These players, Avar especially, absolutely adore animals. I didn't even have to do any persuading for them to immediately buy the winter wolf's story. 

I have a habit of asking 'will a 23 hit?' both as a GM and as a player. It's honestly not sarcastic, I'm just accustomed to asking and do so without thinking. In the fight with Koran and Kanan, it got comical, and I had to force myself to stop.

Like in the previous session, I was worried that facing down a mammoth and two winter wolves would just destroy the party. Luckily, one short rest between the encounters was enough, and besides one grievous injury and ORK going down, they were fine. This time, I promise I'll stop taking CR too seriously. My system instincts still aren't very well developed for 5e. 

One of the examples I used in my post, 'Stop Antagonizing Your GM with this One Simple Trick: Action Adjudication' was from this game, Garagai's entombed body. It was what inspired me to write that post to begin with.