Hammer and the Anvil

Depending on the GM, a lot of time can be spent building the locations in which adventures can be set. I know some GMs just take it all from published materials and run without thinking about the big picture. To be honest why would you when your players are just interested in solving the mystery, slaying the beast and getting the gold/girl. For me this works well for one off adventures, but not so well when the characters become involved in a campaign or series of interlinked adventures. I begin to find my players become more interested in the world around them and I have to have a set of reasons why they can’t take over a town as overlords or set up their own bank or…. Well the hundred and one off-the-wall reasons that can be given by players. Which means at the very least you should have some background at your fingertips.

Then there are GMs who write adventures/campaigns creating the content needed to play a game because, well they enjoy the process or don’t like what is available. Finally, there are the world builders who relish the chance to think about the macro and the what ifs. Well I’m one of those, and even though Middle Earth is full of source material, there are plenty of places to build and develop. My computer, and some binders are littered with pen sketches of places, notes on names and characters: along with adventures to run. So it was with interest that I read about World Anvil  on the Kind GM’s blog.

The site provides a way to organise all those pesky bits of paper into a coherent gazetteer. You will have seen some of my latest content appearing on the blog pages, but really that is an awkward way to manage the content.  So I have been plugging in some text of locations that are of interest currently to see if the site will work for me.

The content holders are useful and mostly match with information and ideas that I want to record, and there is a useful way of linking characters into geographical locations. However, there doesn’t appear to be a way of linking the location to the characters, unless they own the site. If you upload maps they can be linked to the site and I guess using a side bar space I can start adding specific detail from the map.

When I started I just put up one location and started to link characters associated. I soon discovered that when you do this, you will need at least some headline work on races and locations of a top level nature to tie things together. For example, I needed to create a species man and then subdivide to ethnicity Northman/Riverman to include this information on the character. It is possible to get away without having this infomation and leaving it very generic, but at some point linking locations and characters into kingdoms etc has to be done. As a result, it is better to do it early and add to each new item rather than retrospectively.

One thing I do like about the design of the site is the ability to put in secret information that is not generally known to the world. This apparently would be available to subscribers of the world stream but not to the casual observer. Quite how this works in practise I don’t know. I guess a player could read the public content and GMs subscribe, but how do I know which is which?

The website allows for collaboration (any budding authors drop me a line), but really without upgrading to a private account, I don’t think the capacity for images is going to be large enough to cope with more than a few maps. So at some point I’m going to run out of space. It also uses BB code (a cut down HTML) which in this day of smart interfaces seems a bit dated. Even the basic WordPress toolbar begins to look science fiction compared to this.

As a trial I’m going to carry on building locations and ideas for Caras Celairnen because it does make organising the content easier. It is a useful tool for creating the correct environment and forces me to think about who lives in a place and what they look like and how they act. However, at some point I will end up taking all the text and relocating in a more published format elsewhere. Like many internet ventures it will only last as long as the server, so it will pay to make a back up.

 

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Reunited

In the last session, our hapless heroes had become separated and their stories had taken different paths. Recovering in the Dwarven enclave of Caras Celairnen, the dwarves had begun to search for possible news of the return of Limolas to civilisation, more in hope than any real sense of success. As a result, they did not tax their own resources too heavily, instead relying on using the elf’s cash reserves to pay some street urchins to pass on news of any sightings.  Then, feeling that duty had been done, they set about resting and planning on how to return to the Edanaar, the golden frog, to complete the task.

633cc7e45250ccdb5a1aabbeea991001-middle-earth-josephMeanwhile, sometime later, Limolas returning to the town shorn of is belongings and trousers – is detained by the city guard. Attempts to engage the city militia in contacting his friends fail miserably, and the elf is forced to sit and wait in a cell. Finally, he is taken to a court in front of the Arquan of the Karras and a chance to plead his case. However, his dishevelled appearance and lack of means do not help his poorly constructed arguments of being an adventurer down on his luck with companions in town. Perhaps it is not a good idea to mention your friends are dwarves when you are an elf.  After deliberation, the elders of the city decide that Limolas is a potential risk to the safety of the city and decide – in the interest of security –  to bad the elf from the city.  So it is that down-on-his-luck elf finds himself contemplating the long walk along the two-mile causeway towards the next chance of shelter and food.

At that same moment, the dwarves receive word of an elf who matches their description has just been thrown out from the town. With maximum dwarven haste, the pair make their way down to the causeway gate and a short dash across the causeway soon reunites them with their lost companion. After briefly swapping tales, the party hatch a plan to house Limolas for long enough for them to complete the quest.

alabasterReasoning that it is only a matter of time before the banishment will be forgotten, Limolas settles into the shore camp occupied by many of the river’s itinerant travellers who stop-over at the Karras.  When Limolas is sufficiently recovered, the party travel into the fens again and with only minor incidents return to the bower of the Golden Frog.  Upon the presentation of the gifts to the idol, a golden mist swirls around and miraculously Edanaar stand before the adventurers.

Within a matter of days, Edanaar and been reunited with his long-lost love. The party rewarded both in coin and some minor items settle into the town to finally reflect on their adventure and again on how being reunited allowed the lost lovers to be united again.

Sundered!

In the previous session, we left the party divided and in fear deep within the wood surrounding the Labyrinth of Thorns. Limolas, alone in the woods woke to a new day and a sense of self-imposed calm. However, although he knew north from south and east from west, he had no clue as to his location in the woods. Reasoning that the dwarves were to the North he carefully made his way through the woods.

515012-515012_origMeanwhile, back at camp the dwarves, now more concerned about the failure of their companion began to make plans to leave in the assumption that the elf was lost. Waiting part of the morning, and with no sign of Limolas, the pair began to make their way towards the west and the side of the woods they had entered.  Arriving at the edge of the swamp the waited another hour or so before deciding to try and find their way back through the swamp. Suddenly, the two stout heroes were assailed by giant, slimy tentacles. From the swamp a watcher in the water attempt to snatch at Pick, who was carrying the basket containing the stones and rose. Valiantly, the dwarves beat back the assaulting arms and regained the wood away from the dangers of the swamp.  For a while, the tentacles searched for the basket and the dwarves decided that seeking another way from the wood would be sensible. Thus they set off to search the edge of the woods for a new path and they reasoned, they may come across the elf, should he have made his way to edge of the woods.

tumblr_static_esypkkltsvwcswcss0so0cgk4Indeed, this is exactly what Limolas had done, having reached the Northern edge of the woods he surveyed the steep, imposing slopes of the Twilight hills decided to follow the woods to the Western end and the location of the causeway. From there he reasoned he would be able to trace the path back to the camp near the Labyrinth.  After a long trek involving an incident with a fireward and a loss of trousers, the half-dressed elf finally arrived back at the site of the camp, which of course by now was deserted. Not wishing to remain in the wood Limolas made his way back to the edge of the woods by the causeway path for the night.

During this time, Pick and Dagaard had walked around the edge of the wood, and discovered a fellow adventurer in distress. Dealve, had been part of a party seeking the golden frog, but his companions had perished in the accursed swamp and seeking safety Dealve had managed to gain some dry land, but now was without food. Not entirely trusting the adventurer, the dwarves, of course, did not disclose their discoveries but did offer to work together to escape from the swamp. With night drawing, the band of lost adventurers settled in for a watchful and uncomfortable night.

Dawn broke softly in the mist-enshrouded woods, grey, damp mist surrounded the sundered companions. Limolas deciding that his companions have begun to journey back through the swamp uses his tracking skills to begin searching for safe paths back to the golden frog, Edanaar. The dwarves, meanwhile, continue to skirt the woods searching for an obvious path without the risk of meeting a watcher.

uk11-341_glastonbury_tor_from_ham_wall_at_dawn_somerset123The dwarves with Dealve eventually arrive at the escarpments that mark the start of the Twilight hills. Deciding that searching for a path is fruitless, Pick and Dagaard decide to follow the edge of the escarpment towards the river Lhun.  With little incident, but dwindling supplies, they manage to make their way to the dwarf road leading to Caras Celairnen. Finally, arriving at the town starving, the dwarves seek sanctuary in the Dwarven Halls where they are nursed back to health. Fully recovered, the pair use some of Limolas’ coin to pay street urchins to provide news should the elf return. They do this more in hope rather than any real belief that he should be alive.

Limolas, however, is not so fortunate and through a series of mishaps spends longer in the swamp than even the initial journey out took. Thankfully, although lost, he is able to survive on a basic diet of swamp edibles. A considerable time after the dwarves had arrived back at the Karras, Limolas stumbles towards the causeway gate, half-naked, unkempt and starving. Despite pleading for aid, the gate guards decide that Limolas is a suspicious character and detain the elf. Limolas’ protestations and request that someone searches for news of his companions fall on deaf ears.

 

 

Into the Woods

In the previous episode, the brave heroes had fought the Zombie King and survived the devious traps protecting the Iron Rose held beneath a rotten tree. Now Pick, Limolas and Dagaard set out to try and discover the location of the final item required to release Edananar from his frog form. Progress was again slow, but the party took heart when they could see the rising Hills of Evendim; this giving the small hope that the depths of the swamp would soon be left behind. 

Soon the band of adventurers found themselves warily entering a forest of dead trees.  Mists floated in from the swamp obscuring the view further, but untroubled the heroes pushed deeper into the woods and soon came upon a thicket of thorns. It was clear from their previous information that this should be the labyrinth of thorns spoken of as the resting place for the amber stones. A quick survey of the perimeter revealed three entrances and the wanderers soon realised that a strategy to defeat the labyrinth was in order.

e4c4aa06e6061b411f1d084653053476Sadly, after many hours of debate, the best plan they could come up with was to pick the nearest entrance and take the left turn until no more turns could be made and then return to the last turning. Pick, by far the most intelligent of the band, being only slightly below average intelligence, suggested leaving a marker at each turn, and so with bundles of sticks the band set off to explore.

The thorns of the maze pushed in on the adventurers as they explored through the mist. In the mistaken belief that they were efficiently exploring, the party pushed on into the Labyrinth. The tension grew as every wrong turn meant retracing steps and finding the marker sticks, which were becoming less with each wrong turn.

Warily, the party pushed on. Soon Limolas’ sharp ears heard a clacking sound and so the party were aware of the approach of a pair of skeletons.  Unfortunately, the close-packed thorns left no room for manoeuvre and so Pick was forced to deal with both at the junction. Limolas let fly volleys of arrows, but alas they had little effect when his aim was true. So alone and beset on two sides, the brave dwarf swung is mighty warhammer in defence of his comrades. So it is perhaps fortunate that this was the time for our heroes to discover that weapons that break bone, are more effective against the skeletal form of undead.

skeleton_warriors_by_aaronbradburyThe guardians of the Labyrinth dispatched, the explorers pushed on in their haphazard way seeking the centre of the maze. The going was slow and there were many encounters with more skeletons. The dauntless dwarves covering both the van and rear guard dispatched these with ease,  and despite evidence to the contrary Limolas continued to use piercing weapons to provide support.

A cold damp night later, the explorers gained the centre of the maze. In front of them stood a twelve foot high dark green dodecahedral tower, and atop gleamed the prized amber stones. Now the heroes could grab the loot and depart this depressing maze. However, between them and the stones stood a band of skeletal warriors. Faced with odds of three to one, Limolas thought to thin the numbers using his skill as a bowman. His efforts continued to have the same effect as before and the skeletal figures advanced with purposeful menace. The dwarves, taking a more pragmatic view advanced with warhammers swinging and soon the sound of breaking bone filled the centre of the maze. Limolas, finally abandoning his bow, joined the fray swinging his longsword to and fro. Within a few minutes, the floor was littered with a carpet of shattered bones and the heroes could turn their attention to the high pedestal on which the amber stones sat.

A combination of a lack of height and acrobatic skill made it clear very early on that recovering the stones would need a solution that did not involve a tower of two dwarves and an elf. However, by standing on both the dwarves shoulders and using his spear Limolas was eventually able to push the amber stones off the pedestal, where they were soon rolled into the magical bag ready for transport back to the golden frog form of Edananar, All that remained was to find their way back to him through the miles of damp, dreary, dangerous, swamp.

The squelching dead

In the last session, the adventurers had beaten a tactical retreat from a watcher in the water, to seek alternative pathways to the Floating Island on which the Iron Rose was located, or for that matter the Labyrinth of Thorns where the Amber stones were to be found. However, it was becoming clear to the party that seeking these locations in a large swamp is never an easy matter.

After several days of false trails, and occasional encounters in the swamp the meanderers sighted the island again. Cautiously they approached knowing that the island was protected by a Zombie King.  Fighting their way past the reanimated corpses of some marsh boars the heroes were soon engaged in combat with the Zombie King, who was soon defeated. They then began to search the island and quickly discovered a way into the island through the a break in the lonely tree that stood at the centre of the island. The gap was not large and although Limolas could have entered through the gap into the drop to the underground lair, Pick and Dagaard felt that this was Dwarf work and that they should head the start of the exploration.

Heading down into the depths, Pick and Dagaard found themselves in a lightless tunnel. Torch light provided the unwanted detail that the tunnel was made of the bones of various animals and humans. The pair moved cautiously up the tunnel only for Pick to fall foul of a drop trap. The stalwart Dwarf was injured but not fatally, and with the aid of Limolas, Dagaard was able to extricate him and so attend to his wounds.

With the injury making vigorous activity inadvisable it was left to Limolas to go beyond the new pit and explore further. Thankfully, it was not far before he discovered the Iron Rose, a 8ft cast iron statue in the shape of a rose stem. After seeking several different methods of placing this giant effigy into the magic bag that had been collected from the Nixies, Limolas eventually secured the Iron Rose and began his return to his companions. This was when disaster struck and the elf triggered a latent trap seriously injuring himself. However, the wound though serious, was not beyond the first aid skills of the party. With the Iron Rose secured the heroes returned to the nearby causeway to rest and recuperate before venturing further into the swamp.

 

 

A road less travelled

Gaming time again – really has it come round again? There seems something a little upsetting that three months can pass before you can find time to spend an afternoon together. Still only three of us and the players are beginning to worry about their ability to survive combats, despite being perfectly good in a fight. If they take a look at the rationale section they might get a few additional pointers, I did remind them of the need to use parry as a defensive tactic. I also dropped in the need to stock up on herbs that speed up recovery from concussion damage. We also used this session to trial using RM Combat Minion to manage the combat. Although we were quicker in the last session, there is still a lot of table look up and tracking to do and I am not convinced I always remember to tick off the various penalties. RM Combat Minion looks fairly promising in this regard helping to pick up combatants who had fallen unconscious and applying penalties to actions.

AEredluin1 road less travelled is built on the plot from Seeking Solis, but now transported into the region of Numeriador and the village of Eruimar at the end of the Rammas (wall) of Ered Luin (Blue mountains). Having decided that the information on the spies is worth giving to some sort of authority both Pick and Limolas has expressed a desire to travel South. Limolas wishes to travel to Mithlond to deliver the information and to further research where the mysterious Barad Cam might be. For Pick this is a less desirable option, he is hoping to travel to Caras Celairnen and the kingdom of Arthedain where he can find passage back up river towards the Dwarven centres of  Nogrod and Telenaug. Here he hopes to find the same information, but without having to have contact with the elves.

So it is that our mismatched pair decide to travel south having realised that their star is waning in Culwic. Suitably equipped for travelling in the wilds – pack pony carrying tent and food – they make their way along Rammasluin road (Sindarin: blue wall) to Eruimar. Resting up in the village, which is a popular stopping off point for traders of Dwarven goods and adventurers alike, the party discover rumours of a black-marketeer and when news of an attack on a caravan. Naturally their suspicions are aroused, and Limolas investigates further, but is unable to find any further leads. Meanwhile, one of the survivors of the attack, a certain Hobbit by the name of Jerramiah Fallowhide, has given a breathless account on how he and fellow trader (Grubby Durnan) managed to escape. Clearly, unhinged by his narrow escape the inner warrior has been released. Jerramiah wants to rid the area of the bandits and get his cargo back. Grubby seems more intent on drinking the Laughing Brook Inn dry. The rest of the village who have crowded in also would appear to feel helping Jerramiah is not worth the risk. However, a stout and courageous Dwarf by the name of Dagaard Drachoschlar steps forward offering the service of his hammer and with the offer of free beer on the Hobbit, Pick and Limolas decide to provide their services in investigating the crime.

Investigating the ambush site revealed a picture of the story that matched Jerramiah’s version events. The hapless Fredwine and two of the guards lay dead, another (Culwine) appearing to have escaped. The remains of Grubby’s cart of coal lay smouldering obviously not worth the effort of transporting, but the other three carts had been driven off into the wilds. Limolas tracked the carts until if became too difficult for him to track further, but with his sharp elven eyes spotted a lone watchtower up towards the mountains. Further stealthy investigation by Hobbit and Elf discover the empty carts outside of what appears to be a well defended tower.

LimolasLeaving the two dwarves out of sight, Limolas and Jerramiah scouted the surrounding area to see if they could find some tactical advantage that did not require a full frontal assault or scaling the walls. They soon discovered a cave with a secret door, but were stumped when it came to disarming the trap. Limolas, not known for his intellegence, spent many hours staring at the problem until he believed he had a solution. The rest of the party waited outside while he tested the solution.

Not losing a member of the party under a pile of rock proved to be the first lucky break Limolas and Pick had had in their adventures. In due course the party made their way up the secret passage to the sub levels below the watchtower. Nervously, they made their way through a series of abandoned rooms until they met their first group of bandits. Luckily, the bandits were sleeping and despite the stated aim of rendering their opponents unconscious they dispatched the somnolent soldiers speedily.

Up on the next level they met another group of brigands, more active this time but still not ready for an enemy within the walls. Pick chose this moment to lose his cool and spent the majority of the brief combat tripping over objects. Thankfully, Dagaard proved to be a more effective fighter, and Limolas dispensing with trying to use a bow to fight in a melee proved that parrying was a good method of creating an opening from which to dispatch an opponent. Although the combat was brief the party knew that all hope of stealth was now gone.

With caution the party pressed further up the watchtower, unexpectedly no further reinforcement appeared, but moving through the third level they came upon a room with an attractive woman by the name of Ferien who claims to have been held hostage. The players ,succumbing to her powers of persuasion, believe they have rescued an Arthedain princess, and are congratulating themselves when the sound of running feet from the corridor and a cry from Jerramiah bring Pick and Limolas rushing from the room to his aid. Jerramiah tells them he has just been knocked down by Culwine ( a guard on the ambushed caravan) and another man. He tried to tell them they had been rescued but they would not stop. The not so agile, Pick races downstairs but is too slow to prevent the escape of Culwine and his companion on two of the three horses used to pull the carts.

Pick returns to Limolas, Dagaard and Jerramiah where the party discusses the way forward. Dagaard  declares that they must protect the fair maiden from harm at all costs and although they may have dispatched many foes they cannot risk leaving her behind or taking her into combat. They agree to split with Dagaard and Jerramiah with protecting Ferien, and Pick and Limolas further exploring the tower.

Pick and Limolas encounter no real further problems until they start to exit onto the roof where the two roof sentinels try to keep them at bay with ineffective arrow fire. Rushing the guards they discover a third brigand who compared with his fellows prPickoves to be a more effective opponent, but when outnumbered is still quickly defeated. Believing the last of the bandits to have been dispatched the pair take a moment to look out over the battlements. They spy a robed and cloaked figure in a hat climbing up the road to the tower. At this moment they hear a grunt and one of the previously dead bandits has made his way to the edge of the battlements and jumped over the edge. A little surprised Pick and Limolas attempt to mark where the body has fallen but it proves to be lost in the underbrush. Assuming the bandit to now be dead, they turn their attention back to the approaching figure.

Racing through the castle levels they gain the mid level arrow slits in time to see the robed and cloaked figure wave a greeting to the tower. Fearing a wizard, Pick issues a challenge to the approaching figure, who (upon realising that the watchtower is no longer under the previous occupants) makes a run for safety. Limolas lets fly with an arrow and by freakish fortune manages to hit his first mark, although the arrow is flying sideways. Unfortunately, for the fleeing traveller is does so in a rather forceful way an killing him outright. Both Pick and Limolas go down to inspect the body and rather than a feared wizard discover they have killed what appears to be a scholar. Deciding to check on the bandit that fell from the tower they pass round to the other side, but apart from the obvious sign of the passage of a falling body can find no evidence of the bandit. Unsure what this means they bar the main entrances and return to Dagaard, Jerramiah and Ferien.

Upon reaching the princess’ room they find only Dagaard and Jerramiah waiting. When asked where Ferien is they respond that she is a nearby room. However, it becomes quickly clear that this is not the case and on further inspection the party discover that the final horse has been taken and there is no sign of the princess. Confused now as to if it was the missing “dead” bandit or Ferien, who may have also escaped out the secret tunnel, the party decide to block up the tunnel and bar the doors. Then they take to hunting in earnest for Jerramiah’s goods.

weapon_rack1Jerramiah’s goods turn out to be some shields and spears smithed in the dwarven forges of the Blue mountains. Not an exactly legit cargo, Jerramiah is now forced to consider options for recouping his losses. In investigating the origins of the cargo it becomes clear to Pick and Limolas that Jerramiah may have been set up. He was contacted by a soldier of Arthedain who gave the name of a quartermaster in Fornost as wishing for the weapons to be shipped away from spying eyes. The soldier’s name was Herren, but Jerramiah now realises that the man was one of the bandits from the castle having seen the uniform in one of the rooms. In searching the rooms the party also discover several coded messages, including one with a red crescent moon seal, which when added to some Angmar gold coins, suggests a spy plot connected to the Witch King. The final nail in the coffin is a book detailing the weaknesses and strengths of several nobles of Arthedain suggesting someone is plotting to overthrow King Argleb and that at least one loyal noble is marked for assassination.

Having secured the tower the party are now considering what options to take next. Given Jerramiah wishes to sell his weapons, and Pick and Limolas would like to hand the spy information over to the Arthedain authorities, the plan is to return to Eruimar to replace the horses, hitch up the carts with cargo and travel to the river port of Elvenbyen to transport the goods downriver to Caras Celairnen. Meanwhile, Dagaard reveals that he is under a geas to revenge the death of a companion in Caras Celairnen and although he knows not the name of the man who poisoned them both believes he will recognise him when he sees him.

Gygax On…The Nature and Variety of Challenge — Creighton BroadhurstCreighton Broadhurst

I don’t intend to do this too often, but somehow this one with the quote from Gygax chimed with the recent post “Roleplaying in a vacuum“.

 

It’s not the world’s snappiest title, but challenge is at the heart of every gaming session. The PCs may have to crush the forces of the evil goblin king, root out a pernicious black cult or simply find their way out of a labyrinthine network of caverns. By William McAusland (Outland Arts) Whatever their…

via Gygax On…The Nature and Variety of Challenge — Creighton BroadhurstCreighton Broadhurst