Friday, January 31, 2014

A Visual Guide to Thither

Thither is a medium-large city of 15 thousand permanent residents and an additional thousand or two transient merchants, sailors, and laborers on any given day depending on the season. Thither is located about four miles from the mouth of the Xanthus river across from the Crying Swamps. Here the river is sluggish and meandering, almost a marshy tidewater.  The swamp itself extends for twenty miles of flooded jungle, marshy grasses, and choking weeds with a multitude of twisting channels.

Thither was constructed by refugees of the doomed city of Sinopia when that metropolis was destroyed one thousand years ago. At first, Thither was nothing more than a fishing village, a collection of hovels, home to five hundred survivors of the celestial holocaust. In time, traders from up-river began to return. Then ships from far off ports along the coast of Agartha, as well as far-off lands like Atlantis, Lemuria, Hyperborea, and Mu, began to stop in Thither. In time, Thither became prosperous and wealthy. The nobility of Thither believe they owe their success to Altina, the golden goddess of the river, and to annual human sacrifice to Bobugbubilz, the god of the swamps.

Like most of the towns and cities of the Xanthus river valley, Thither is ruled by a hereditary Archon who consults with a city council composed of nobles and influential commoners known as Patricians. The current Archon is named Kepha. Kepha is an overweight man in his forties, balding with a well-trimmed beard. Kepha has six wives and eighteen children. Kepha is a practical man but he has little strategic vision. He tends to manage the city one crisis at a time. Kepha is friendly, warm, and generous to his friends. He dislikes having enemies and tries to win opponents over rather than compete with them. Although Kepha is intelligent and astute and brilliant at forging compromises and resolving disputes, many of the patricians consider him weak and tend to work schemes behind his back. This situation has led to hidden corruption within the court of archon Kepha and the city administration.

1. Docks. Wooden platforms and moorings built over the bank allow for up to eight sea-going ships or twenty-four river boats to dock at any one time. The docks are always busy with activity as stevedores load and unload visiting ships.

2. Basilica of Altina, the Golden Goddess of Wealth and Trade. Altina is the patron goddess of Thither. She is depicted as a rubenesque woman made of gold with four arms in which she carries scales, an arrow, a sheaf of wheat, and a crystal orb.

3. The Pylon. This large pylon is connected to the docks by a narrow stone bridge. The bridge prevents loosed boats from floating downriver.

4. Warehouses. The buildings in this part of town consist of warehouses, barns, and storage buildings.

5. Villas. Walled compounds belonging to wealthy patrons of Altina, all of which happen to be successful merchants and moneylenders.

6. Currency Exchange. This temple-like building is home to the impenetrable underground vaults of the money changers. Most trade in Thither is done via notes, IOUs, and scrips, which can be exchanged for currency here. The currency exchange is guarded by an army of alert well-armed guards. The subterranean vaults are patrolled by fabulous guardian beasts, traps, and sorcerous wards. 

The Academy of Eskilik. Next door to the currency exchange is the Academy of Eskilik, an institution of higher learning dedicated to studying the laws and history of the ancient Agarthan empire. The Academy often funds expeditions throughout the valley to locate, explore, map, and recover lost treasures from the ruins of the fallen empire of the golden age.

7. Old South Gate. This older gate allows access through the older inner wall of the city to the newer section beyond.

8. Hostels. Several hostels and inns in this neighborhood provide group accommodation to budget-minded transient boat crews.

9. Patricians Villas. The political elite of Thither hold the hereditary title "Patrician". Those of patrician rank  live in walled compounds near the palace of the archon.

10. Palace of the Archon. Archon Kepha lives in this marble palace with his extended family, household, and regiment of personal guards.

11. Notice Board. A large covered notice board stands in the center of the busiest plaza of the city. Here one may read the day's news, official pronouncements, wanted posters, employment opportunities, and other public notices.

12. Old Temple District. Four temples occupy this row outside the entrance to the archon's palace. Here one may offer sacrifices to seek the blessings of Tzann, the God of the Sun; Pelagia, goddess of the sea; Thumina, goddess of the moon; and the Lazy Issari, demi-goddess of insight and strategy. Each temple is administered by a high priest (Level 10+ Cleric)

13. Monastery of Ulesh, God of Peace. This large walled compound is home to 60 monks overseen by High Llama Sham (Level 9 Monk).

14. Old South Gate. This old gate is covered in bas relief carvings.

15. Tenements. This large four story building is a tenement for the servants and laborers of the city's upper class.

16. Bazaar. Dozens of awnings and tents are erected here everyday in this outdoor market filled with milling throngs, shouting merchants, barkers, exotic performers, and street food.

17. Temples to Justicia and Bilgelik. These two new peripteral temples featuring dozens of gleaming marble columns were built in the last twenty years by wealthy merchant and philanthropist Bo-Mont Oacha.. They are temples to Justicia, Goddess of Justice and Mercy, and Bilgelik, God of Wisdom and Prosperity. The priests and acolytes of these temples endeavor to offer succor for the sick and poor. Their progressive philosophy is very unpopular with the established nobility of the Patricians who occasionally hire mobs of thugs to attack and vandalize the temples and their worshippers.

18. Hospital. Philanthropist Bo-Mont Oacha also constructed this hospital and hired chirurgeons and healing priests of Justicia to tend the wounded gladiators of the arena. The hospital also serves as a school for new healers and chirurgeons.

19. Arena. The small arena of Thither seats 4000 spectators who gather to watch gladiatorial combats, executions, plays, and other performances.

20. Villas. Walled compounds for the families of successful citizens, usually merchants, artisans, and craftsmen.

21. Tenements. Large cheaply-built apartment block-style homes for the city's lower class workers and laborers.

22. Tavern Row. Nearly a dozen taverns are located on this row servicing a mixture of local and visiting clientele. Rowdy brawls are a nightly occurrence.

23. Inns. Several walled compounds provide more secure private accommodation to travelers and their animals.

24. Shops. Artisans, craftsmen, and merchants sell their services and wares from more permanent shops in this lively neighborhood.

25. Garrison and Barracks. The large fortified compound houses the town garrison while the long buildings across the street are the barracks for the troops.

26. North Gate. This gate, built at the same time as the New Outer Wall, provides access to the trail that follows the Xanthus river north to Spit.

27. South Gate. The south gate opens to the coast road which leads south to the town of Orada with side trails to Yon, the "city of wizards".

28. Outer City. These small buildings house inns and shops catering to travelers and river fishermen alike.

29. Signal Tower and Temple of Anuran, Demon-Lord of Amphibians. The fires atop this tall signal tower are used to summon the colossal demon-lord of the frogs to provide him his annual human sacrifice. This annual tradition is believed to keep the city safe by appeasing malicious god and its reptilian and ranine servants.

30. The Crying Swamps. The vast marshes and swamps were once the location of the city of Sinopia, a great port city of the imperial age. Sinopia was destroyed by divine fire over a thousand years ago, leaving nothing but crumbling flooded ruins. Today the region is haunted by eerie wailing spirits and tribes of lizard and frog men.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Under-City of Duirnhold

Duirnhold was founded by the dwarfish King Duirn over 2400 years ago when an exploratory tunnel into the mountain that now bears his name revealed rich veins of Atuta Dhatu (mithril), iron, copper, gold, silver, and other precious metals and gemstones. In time, the mines and foundries of Duirnhold became one of the most productive and lucrative dwarfish enterprises in all of Agartha.  Traders came up the Xanthus river from across the continent to do business with the dwarfs, trading food, furs, textiles, and other goods in exchange for raw ore, prepared ingots, and finished products such as weapons, armor, metalwork, jewelry, and custom goods.

There are two publically known entrances to Duirnhold. The first is located on the west slope of the mountain in the town of Duirndown near the headwaters of the Xanthus river. The second is located  on the east slope of the mountain facing the desert wastes of Gazh. On this side, a long stairway descends the mountain to the desert several thousand feet below.

Anyone entering through either entrance descends down a twenty-foot wide corridor for a few hundred feet before needing to pass a checkpoint. It is here that the trade goods were inspected and the traveler recorded and given a passport. Past the checkpoint, the corridor descends another mile.
Visitors from Duirndown must cross over a bridge that spans a great cleft under the mountain. The cleft rises several hundred feet above and descends into an interminable chasm below.

 Lower Level

The lower level is the only level accessible to outsiders. It consists of five connected chambers: two Halls of Statues, the Hall of Trade, the Hall of Metals, and the Hall of Goods.

Visitors entering from either direction then pass through one of two impressive Halls of Statues, a one-hundred foot tall vaulted gallery filled with 16 colossal statues of ancient dwarfish heroes and legendary figures. The gallery is imposing and is meant to intimidate and impress visitors as they pass underneath.

Visitors then enter the Hall of Trade, a busy bustling gallery of offices where factors from the various dwarfish mercantile houses meet with visiting merchants to conduct business transactions. Visitors may be taken into the adjacent Hall of Metals or Hall of Goods to inspect the items they intend to purchase prior to completing the transaction.  The Hall of Trade also maintains houses of accommodation for visiting dignitaries. Diplomatic envoys are escorted through one of two passages to the upper level to conduct court business.

Rumors tell of secret doors that lead to hidden chambers and covert passages to restricted levels.

Upper Level

The chambers of the upper level is restricted to the dwarfs of Duirnhold. Only visiting dignitaries may enter.

The upper level consists of one large gallery connected to three smaller chambers as well as three labyrinthine networks of rooms and corridors.

The largest gallery is devoted to the royal palace and the temple to the mountain lord. This cavernous chamber rises five hundred feet and is supported by ten forty-foot wide stone columns. The south end of the gallery is dominated by a large stepped pyramid, a temple to Daenthar the Mountain Lord, chief g the dwarfish pantheon. A moat surrounds the impressive structure. Eight statues of each of the gods of the dwarfs stand against the west and east walls surrounding the temple.

The north end contains the palace of Duirn, an impressive edifice sporting two tapering two-hundred foot tall obelisks and a soaring 150-foot dome. The wide stairs that lead into the entrance is flanked by statues of Duirn's mother and father. During its heyday, hundreds of dwarfs lived and worked within the palace household and the descendants of Duirn held court in the audience chamber.

The southern gallery is 300 feet wide by 540 feet long by 300 feet high. This chamber contains the forge, a mighty furnace that taps into the very heart of the mountain. Here metal ores are melted down and separated into refined metals. During its day, the forge was filled with working dwarfs, rock crushers, blast furnaces, bloomeries, powerful mechanical bellows, crucibles, and foundries. Vents leading to the surface provided fresh air for the bellows and carried away exhaust from the furnaces. Water wheels powered by underground rivers drove the fans that moved the air through the vents.

Ores were mined far below and stored in the adjoining Hall of Ores, a 300 feet wide by 300 feet long by 300 feet high warehouse piled high with various rocks laced with metal ores. The ores were separated into distinct piles: gold, silver, copper, iron, tin, and the exotic unbreakable metal the dwarfs call Atuta Dhatu, found only in the deepest places under the mountain.

Finished metals and parts were later cleaned, polished, and assembled into weapons, armor, tools, and other devices in the adjoining workshop. The workshop is 180 feet wide by 540 feet long and 240 feet high. The workshop contained hundreds of work benches and anvils. Ores, metals, and finished goods were then transported to the Hall of Metals or Hall of Goods for trade with the outside world.

A complicated network of metal tracks connected the mines to the Hall of Ores, the Forge, the Workshop, and the trade halls below. Mine carts were pulled by mules.

The eastern gallery is known as the Hall of Workers. The Hall of Workers measures 780 feet long by 420 foot wide by 240 feet tall and is supported by 18 40-foot wide columns. In its day, the hall contained homes and dormitories to house the common unskilled workers, miners, and laborers of Duirnhold. The gallery is a network of public spaces, dormitories, private apartments, dining halls, taverns, and other residential services.

The Hall of Nobles measures 660 feet long by 300 feet wide by 300 feet tall and is supported by 9 columns. The chamber is divided into 12 private multi-story compounds, each belonging to one of the 12 noble families of Duirnhold.

The Hall of Artisans measures 300 feet wide by 480 feet long by 300 feet tall and is supported by 6 columns. This space contains the private residences of the twelve master artisans of Duirnhold. Whenever a master artisan dies, a contest of skills is held and a new master artisan is selected from the general populace.

Secret Locations

There are several secret locations in Duirnhold, including the fabled Vault of Duirn, rumored to measure 300 feet wide by 600 feet deep and 300 feet high, it is said to be filled with the accumulated wealth of thousands of years of prosperity. Its location is unknown. Other locations not shown on the maps above include the catacombs which lead to the burial vaults of the twelve noble families and the ossuaries of the commoners. According to dwarfish tradition, dwarfs are buried in their finest raiment with their most treasured possessions. These tombs are protected by deadly traps enchanted guardian statuary.

The Fall of Duirnhold

Forty years ago, the dwarfs of Duirn uncovered a lost chamber deep underneath the mountain, far down in its very roots. The chamber unleashed a primal force of evil, the titan of chaos known as Zoggolorth, buried since the dawn of time. Once freed, the evil of Zoggolorth quickly spread, corrupting everything it touched. The dwarfs built bulwark after bulwark to defend themselves from the spread of the evil, but it slowly overcame each line of defense. Eventually, the city itself fell. Thousands of dwarfs died in the final desperate battles against the Spawn of Zoggolorth. The surviving dwarfs were forced to abandon their homes and flee for their lives. The dwarfs called upon the aid of the human mages to magically seal the portals behind them, preventing the further spread of the chaos. Today, Duirnhold is sealed behind multiple layers of magical gates. Each gate can only be opened by a magical key in the possession of one of the human mages of Bhaakru.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Mages of Bhaakru

Illustration by Christian Conkle

The Mages of Bhaakru are an order of wizards, sorcerers, and thaumaturgists. There are 24 members of the order. Each member is a master of a specialized form of magic.

  1. Keryodel Mitchak, Master and Head Instructor for Ethereal Physiology Analytical Studies 
  2. Yondel the Injurious, Master of Destructive Proverbs 
  3. Omod the Incessant, Drover of the Howling Black 
  4. Thrice-born Guillarme, Lord of Ash 
  5. Massimo Pellipar Benari, High Adept of the Scalding Spire 
  6. Madame Corvax, Sage of the Inverse Serpent 
  7. Calla'dara the Lusty, Mistress of Manipulation 
  8. Avgred Horath, Superluminary Aetherweaver 
  9. Beetledrum the Absent-Minded, Supreme Benefactor of Accidental Mayhem Magic 
  10. Vapula, Master Alchemist of the Venerable Order of the Emerald Exodus 
  11. Possuvex the Most Puissant Magister of the Puccoon Hexes 
  12. Umtrios the Delusive, Supreme Illusionist of the Hidden Court 
  13. Fat Mongrel the Obdurate 
  14. Tramga the New, Initiate of the Fifth Shard 
  15. Feyjer Wolf, Spawn of the Protean Chaos 
  16. Svorr the Elder, Keeper of the Nth Aeon 
  17. Hailoon the Mystic, Master of the Blinded Eye. 
  18. Goram the Salamander, Master of the Soulflame. 
  19. Jessra the Knight, Master of the Warrior’s Way. 
  20. Mezzer the Ringlord, Master of the Enchanter’s Loop 
  21. Sandorex the Supernumerary, Purveyor of Ontological Ennui 
  22. Meefallanananfanganan the Metamathematical, Minister of Meteorological Mellifluence 
  23. Gaitexthe the Sporn, Disciple of Roving Gortlflexiyon 
  24. Dorex the Depraved, Sultan of 796 Succulent Sins
Given that membership is for life, the roster is surprisingly fluid. The order suffers a 11-16 percent annual turnover rate as members are killed or mysteriously disappear. 

The Mages meet quarterly at each solstice and equinox. The solstice gatherings are business related and are usually convened to deal with matters of great import while equinox gatherings are more casual social networking affairs. Individual mages will correspond, cooperate, and fraternize from time to time and certain social cliques and political factions exist between like-minded members. The Grand Magus is selected at special meetings held at each solar eclipse at the headquarters located atop Mount Mashushammu in the southern deserts of Agartha.

The Mages will also respond to urgent summons at times when the entire universe faces great peril. Smaller groups will be assigned by the Grand Magus to deal with lesser threats. Forty years ago, eight of the twenty-four Mages were tasked with saving the the dwarfish city of Duirndown from the corruption of the elder chaos titan Zoggolorth. The Octet were unable to defeat Zoggolorth and the city fell. In their retreat, they placed eight magical seals were upon the gates leading to the city. Each gate could only be opened with a magical key.

The outer-most key was created by Fezoon the Cerulean, who in turn entrusted it to Guirn, the nominal leader the dwarfish exiles. In time, the key passed to Guirn's son, Huirn, who used the key to unlock the gate, seeking forgotten treasures left within. Huirn was killed during that expedition and the key passed to Squire Valerius of Duirndown.

Edit to add: I should point out that I had some marvelous help coming up with some of the names above.
#1 was created by Jeff Mason, #3-6 were created by Senator Cybus and #21-24 were created by Michael Tree, both over at RPG.Net. #7 by R.S. Tilton, #8 by Noah Stevens, #9 by Impact Miniatures, and #10 by John Sayler over at the DCC G+ Community, amd #17-20 were by Jeff Low.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

"The Sacrifice of the Serpent God" Chapter 5 of the Xanthus River Campaign

We picked up this week where we left off last week, the party, consisting of...

  • Valerius, 1st level fighter
  • Absalom, 1st level cleric
  • Gwen, 1st level elf
  • Ven, zero level elfish falconer
  • Nip, zero level turnip farmer
  • Another zero level character whose name I forget.
...had discovered a secret cult of the serpent god operating in a secret basement below the livestock barn in Wince. Absalom was paralyzed on the floor, struck down by the poisoned blowgun dart of the cult guard. The party discussed their next move, then interrogated their cult prisoner in the barn above. The prisoner revealed that the cult used the paralytic toxin to prepare sacrifices to the demon-snakes they are trying to summon. There are times when the cult must restore their victims, so they keep a supply of antidote in the next room. At this, the party resolved to storm the room, defeat their foes, and acquire the antidote. 

They burst through the doors to find the three "Empty Ones", cultists controlled by hideous two-headed snakes living inside their bodies, three acoltyes, and one high priest standing near a desk on a platform at the top of some stairs. There were two cages swinging from the ceiling containing paralyzed smugglers captured earlier that evening. Two magic sigils were drawn on the floor. Small piles of ash and dust occupied the center of each circle. Two of the acolytes were chanting a sibilant incantation near the circles. 

(The rules were thus: on each round, I would roll a d6 on the acolyte's initiative. If I rolled a 6, they succeeded in summoning a skeletal giant viper. If one acolyte was cut down, another could take their place, picking up where they left off. The high priest was, in fact, a serpent man in disguise. He possessed the spells of a 5th level cleric. In retrospect, the entire encounter was overpowered for my party, but more about that in a moment.)

Valerius instantly cut down one of the acolytes. The other magic circle immediately burst into a pillar of light in which the ash and dust swirled as it took the form of a skeletal snake of prodigious size. The third acolyte then moved in to continue the chant of the first dead acolyte. Valerius then entered into deadly combat with the diabolic foe while Gwen made several pathetic attempts to fire a bow at the high priest, then failed at summoning animal helpers. Eventually, Gwen was able to create an interposing wall of force to help shield Valerius from the skeletal snake's attack. 

Meanwhile, the three zero-level adventurers took on an acolyte and an "Empty One". The fight did not go well for the trio and they were eventually cut down, but not before killing the acolyte and Empty One, which only released the two-headed snake within.

At the top of the platform, the high priest failed many spell-casting attempts before finally delivering a curse against Valerius. At one point, the priest accidentally utters a curse against his serpent god, and is punished. At this point, the priest draws his poisoned dagger, slowly walks down the stairs, saunters up to Gwen, and inserts the curved blade into the elfish heart. Gwen immediately fell down dead!

Valerius eventually killed the demon-snake, but only in time for a second demon-snake to be summoned. All seemed lost at Valerius was bitten and fell! 

At this point, eight members of the town guard's night watch, at the direction of Shau, burst into the room and dragged Valerius and Gwen from danger. The high priest was attacked and immediately turned into green gaseous mist. Seconds later, a secret door on the wall behind the platform mysteriously opened, revealing a hidden passage, then closed. 

Valerius was turned over, and he survived! Gwen, however, was dead. 

The next morning, Valerius informed their merchant employer of the death of the crew of the boat. The merchant is saddened but sets about recruiting a new crew. Valerius then obtained an antidote from Bhau, the town apothecary, and gave it to Absalom, who in turned healed Valerius of all his injuries. 

The surviving party members decided to continue down river with the merchant. The rest of the journey was uneventful. They arrived in Thither a few hours after nightfall. 

Shau, impatient to return home, invited everyone to her family mansion, only a two hour hike away on the coast! They could stay the night and receive their reward in the morning! Her uncle is a wealthy alchemist. He will welcome them all! 

The group parts ways with the merchant, giving him the boat. The party, or what by now can only be more accurately described as a caravan, consisting of Shau, Valerius, Absalom, twelve hangers-on, two ponies, and a hen, set off down the trail with torches and lamps held high. 

They arrived at the gates to the compound of Shau's estate at around midnight. The wall is dilapidated and overgrown, the gate hanging limply and swinging loudly in the breeze. The silhouette of the decaying manor could be made out against the moonlit sky, the ocean glowing with the reflection of the moon in the distance. It appears as if no one has been in the manor house for years!

Shau said "This.. this can't be right!"

Valerius inquired, "How long since you were last here?"

To which Shau replied, "As far as I know, only six days ago. I.. I don't know what's happening."



My original plan for this room was going to be one serpent man, three acolytes, and three "Empty Ones". I added the demon-snakes at the last minute, a decision I now regret. I turned a tough fight for 0/1st level characters into an impossible fight. 

That being said, several things went against the party this fight:
  1. Not having a cleric to provide healing.
  2. Gwen's inability to roll higher than a 5 all fight!
  3. My rolling a 6 to summon the demon-snake on the first round! I was expecting them to have more time to kill acolytes and prevent their being summoned. 
  4. Not killing all the acolytes to prevent a second demon-snake from being summoned.
  5. Their unwillingness to feed the smugglers to the giant snakes. This was set up as an option but either a) no one thought of it, or b) it was not an acceptable option.
  6. No one tried to parley! 
  7. Valerius not knowing when to retreat!
Other lessons learned from this fight: 

I had set up the minis and terrain before they decided to storm the room. They were VERY reticient about storming the room without a cleric. But by having the room all set up, I essentially pressured them into doing so, even thought I gave them every assurance they didn't have to go in there if they didn't want to, the implied guilt was probably still there.
I shouldn't have added the demon-snakes at all, or at most just have used one, and I DEFINITELY shouldn't have used the stats for the giant viper in the book. 3d8 HP were fine, but +8 to hit was just way too much! At most it should have been +1 or +2.
I didn't want a TPK and have everyone start over at zero level, so I saved them with some deus ex machina at the end. I feel guilty about that too. I'm okay with losing a PC here and there, but I hate TPKs. It tends to kill campaigns and any sense of continuity. 

Next week, I'm reskinning an old AD&D module: the Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh!

A Visual Guide to Wince

The Village known as Wince was founded four hundred years ago during the Imperial colonization period. At that time, the surrounding land was covered by the Blackwood Jungle. In time, much of the land was cleared away for farmland. Wince was established as a river trading port where the local farmers could trade their produce and have it shipped up and down the river. The name of the village is actually a corruption of the town’s original name of Whence.

The town and surrounding area is ruled by Archon Hadrus, the 16th generation descendant of the founder of the village, Archon Ulls. The walls protect the town from the occasional raid by bandits, reavers, and warlords. Every few generations, the walls are breached and the town is razed. The survivors simply re-build and start over.

The village of Wince has just over 400 residents, mostly traders, artisans, craftsmen, laborers, the household of the archon, and town guards. The surrounding hinterlands is a patchwork of dozens of farms, each protected by low field walls. The farmhouses are located within high-walled compounds.

1.       Docks
a.        Tunnel to Keep: a tunnel dug into the side of the bank opens to a guard room and armory and stairs that lead inside the archons’ keep above.
b.      Ramp: a ramp allows wagons full of grain, barrels, flour, and produce to descend the bank to the docks.
c.       Stairs: these stairs allow access to the dock from the barns above.
d.      Patrician’s Stairs: these stairs allow Patrician Umok private access to the docks from his mansion.
2.       Dockmaster’s House: The dockmaster collects docking fees and taxes. He is assisted by two town guards (Level 0, armed with spears and wearing padded armor).
3.       Barns
a.       Livestock Barn: this large barn temporarily holds animals such as aurochs, pigs, chickens, horses, and mules.
b.      Warehouse Barn: this large barn is used as a warehouse for the temporary storage of grains, flour, and other dry goods to be shipped.
4.       Patrician Umok’s Mansion: This large mansion overlooks the river and is home to Umok, a wealthy trader and owner of a fleet of river boats. Umok is a rotund jovial man with a bushy mustache. He wears a puffy turban with a long feather and flowing silk garments. Umok has three wives and eleven children, on whom he smothers with his affection, attention, and wealth. Umok is a patrician, meaning he is a powerful commoner with recognized influence in Archon Hadron’s court.
5.       Town Square: this open area is the site of official pronouncements, town justice, and other public events.
a.       Notice Board: public notices, wanted posters, pronouncements, newsletters, and job openings are routinely posted on this board in the center of town.
6.       The Archon’s Keep: this small walled keep and donjon are home to the household and retinue of archon Hadrus. Hadrus is a handsome man in his late twenties. He has yet to marry or sire an heir. He inherited the position of archon when his parents, archon Getredes along with his mother Yerta, were killed in a pirate attack while traveling on the Xanthus river. The archon’s surviving family includes his younger sisters Halen, 18, and Helise, 10.  His household consists of four attendants, a handful of servants, and 8 bodyguards selected from the town watch.
7.       Green Tiger Inn: a fine establishment with private rooms and the finest comestibles. The Green Tiger’s patrons include wealthy merchants and travelers.
8.       Bilious Froth Inn: an inn that caters to less discriminating patrons, usually river boat crews. Everyone sleeps in a common room and is served stew and grog.
9.       Dry Goods/General Store: the proprietor is Galo, a fast-talking salesman with no sense of humor.
10.   Farm Tools: the proprietor is named Eithuan, a friendly but pessimistic man.
11.   Apothecary: the town apothecary and barber is named Bhau, an older man, inquisitive, calm, and overly chivalrous with the ladies. Bhau offers restorative elixirs that cure paralysis, blindness, and impotence (10 silver each), and more expensive libations that speed healing (+1d4 HP, 10 gold each), and restore vigor (+1 STR, AGI, or STA, 100 gold each).
12.   Bakery: the town baker is named Mathabo, an intelligent man who is averse to confrontation.
13.   Tailor: The town tailor is named Zara Logn. Zara is multi-talented, serving as the town’s haberdasher and shoemaker. Zara is a cautious man who analyzes all the angles before making a decision. His wife Yrksha serves as a seamstress. She is self-assured and assertive.
14.   Canned, Pickled, Smoked, and Dried foods: one can purchase any sort of preserved food from the shop’s proprietor, Gorano. Gorano is a sniveling weak-willed coward who takes cover at the first sign of a fight and avoids all confrontations.
15.   Leatherworker: the town leatherworker is named Rarhas, a haughty self-indulgent blowhard who enjoys practical jokes and bawdy nicknames.
16.   Moneychanger: this shop offers currency exchange, assay, vault storage, and even small loans. The proprietor is named Phalzo, a close-minded pessimist who refuses to acknowledge other points of view.
17.   Alchemist: this shop provides various herbicides, fertilizers, and insecticides to the area farmers, as well as needed chemicals to the other artisans in town. The village alchemist is named Rn-Kan, an exotic foreigner from the western desert. Rn-Kan is open-minded and of liberal philosophy. However, he is easily distracted and tends to ramble about diverse subjects.
18.   Brothel: this establishment caters primarily to the transient crews of the river-boats. Only 6 women work here under the protection of the burly bodyguard Lachugo and his slimy bald brother Prothlogo. The women are tolerated in town but are generally not accepted members of the community.
19.   Sailmaker: Egatalug the sail-maker and his family make and repair sails for the river boats that pass through. Ergatalug is laconic and serious. His wife Pharcala is dim-witted, insecure, and slightly flighty. They have eight children.
20.   Vintner: the proprietor Olot makes his own wine from local grapes and also imports barrels from other lands. Olot is a popular man. He is considered hilarious but his jokes tend to be insulting. He is second only to Umok in the town council. He is married to Krthu, a no-nonsense hard-working woman, and has 6 children.
21.   Midwife/Orphanage: Mathol the midwife provides her services to the town and surrounding farms. Mathol is a harsh matron, sadistic and cruel. She is married to Hoshag, a bully with low self-esteem. Mathol often provides her services to the brothel next door. In addition to mid-wifery, Mathol is able to perform abortions. She also runs an orphanage for unwanted children. There are currently 12 children in the orphanage. Mathol puts them to work helping the local craftsmen.
22.   Dyer: Acanista the dyer is a lovely young lady in her early twenties. She is shy and demure. The rumor about town is that Archon Hadrus is having a secret affair with the beautiful lass.
23.   Soapmaker: Rolgnok the soap-maker renders fat into soap. Rolgnok is an overweight man, silly and absent-minded. He is married to Mindh and has 4 children.
24.   Tanner: Elbaga tans animal hides into leather. Elbaga is adventurous and impractical, always trying out new inventions or procedures. His wife Zhoda is a passive weak-willed day-dreamer. They have 9 children.
25.   Cooper: barrels may be purchased from Marndo, the village cooper. Marndo is a dull conservative man with no imagination. His wife Isza is strong-willed but likewise serious and humorless. They have 3 children.
26.   Wheelwright: Ntharo makes and sells wagon wheels for the community. Ntharo is young, a bit na├»ve, and easily fooled. He has yet to take a wife.
27.   Wainwright: Ntharo’s older brother Osluro is an experienced wagon-maker. Osluro is jaded and unenthusiastic. His wife Hmala is timid and filled with regret.
28.   Cheesemaker: Zhanat was once a dairy farmer who sold his land and retired to make cheese in the village. Zhanat is friendly and helpful but refuses all aid for himself. He is a widower with no surviving children.
29.   Jeweler: the town jeweler is a dwarf named Iggy. Iggy is neutral towards village politics and likes to stay above any local drama. He is very serious and refuses to acknowledge jokes or humorous situations.
30.   Woodcarver: Kela is a woodcarver from Flinch. She is a woman in her forties, strong and independent with a rebellious spirit. She has never had a husband that anyone knows about, but when she alone and thinks no one is looking she has conversations with an invisible person named Linis.
31.   Ropemaker: river boats use a lot of rope, and it can be purchased from Botho Gogom, the rope-maker. Botho is lazy but highly observant and intelligent. He is married to Ysquida, an outgoing woman with dreams of adventure. They have 4 children.
32.   Animal Traps/Furrier: One may purchase animal traps of all sizes from Ollzholl the trap-maker. Ollzholl is a former hunter with a missing leg. He likes to tell old hunting stories, especially how he lost his leg, a story that changes with every telling. He also purchases and re-sells furs. His wife Phella is a talented furrier, creating beautiful coats, hats, gloves, etc. They have 8 grown children.
33.   Silversmith/Goldsmith: the proprietor Cagoth is an ingenious inventor of new alloys. Cagoth loves jokes and is a hearty laugher. He is often at odds with the dwarfish jeweler Iggy over the proper use of metals. Cagoth is married to Norata, a boring person with no personality, and has 5 children.
34.   Fence: Silith, the local layabout and pickpocket, can usually be found hanging out sitting on this garden wall. Silith is a member of the thieves’ guild of Thither which grants him limited protection from prosecution as long as his crimes remain petty, are kept to an acceptable minimum, and truly precious items are returned to their owners.
35.   Pantheon: the village temple provides shrines to all the major socially acceptable gods of Agartha. The temple is shared and attended by three friendly but competitive priests: Pirdus, priest of Tzann; Ulea, priestess of Thumina; and Wethis, priest of Justica. A handful of acolytes and monks live in the attached clergy house.
36.   Blacksmith: the blacksmith of Wince is a burly man named Oren. Oren is grouchy and rude and a violent drunk. He is served by two apprentices and two slaves who live in constant fear of their master.
37.   Artisan’s House: this large building is shared by jewelers, silver smiths, gemcutters, and woodcarvers.
38.   Potter’s House: Several potters, masons, and stonecarvers earn their livelihoods in this two-story
39.   Town Gate: four guards from the towns’ volunteer watch man the gate during the day, only two stand guard at night.
40.   Bastions: these square towers aid in the defense of the village. Each bastion contains a room containing weapons and armor. The defense of the town is provided by a force called the town guard. Every able bodied citizen between the ages of 15 and 40 are expected to serve in the town guard, working an eight-hour shift for three months of the year, or pay a fee for an exception. Each bastion is manned by four guards twenty-four hours a day. Two of which are expected to be on look-out duty at any given time. In reality, there are days where the bastions may go un-manned or where some or all of the guards neglect their duty to hang out in other bastions or in the village. If the sergeant on duty that day is a particular stickler for the rules and for the duty, he might punish deserters with a day in the stocks.
41.   Towers: unlike the bastions, the towers do not contain rooms of equipment. Two guards man each tower.
42.   Farms: the surrounding countryside is cleared of jungle for miles around. The terrain is a patchwork of fieldstone walls protecting fields of corn, wheat, barley, rye, oats, beans, and other staples. The farmhouse is, in turn, protected by a high walled compound. Each farmstead is home to a family of ten to twenty, five servants, and ten to twenty farm hands and laborers. At harvest time, all the grains are taken to one of the dozen local mills to be turned into flour or meal, then shipped up or down river through Wince. 

Adventure Ideas

An Ophidian (Serpent Man) named Salek runs a secret cult devoted to the Serpent God Set out of a secret hideout located beneath the livestock barn. Salek is attended by four Empty Ones (Hollow Ones who spill snakes instead of tentacle monsters when they die) and four acolytes. Salek possesses a magic wand that can create a portal to a remote temple hidden deep in the Blackwood Jungle on any walled surface which he can use to make an escape. 

Pirates menace shipping on the Xanthus river from their hidden base up the Atrous river. Archon Hadrus is offering a 500gp reward to anyone who can end the pirate threat. 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

"Down the River" Chapter 4 of the Xanthus River Campaign

This week we were joined by a new player: Matt.

As we left our party, they were escorting a merchant down the Xanthus river to the coastal city of Thither. Whilst in Swallow, the merchant hired a river barge to take them the rest of the way down river. Half-a-day out of Swallow, as they passed the confluence of the Xanthus and the Atrous river, 16 pirates in war canoes emerged from the Atrous river and were quickly closing on the party.

The pirates charged closer, gaining on the river barge, closing the distance by 30 feet/round. Valerius the Squire told the captain to slow down and let them get closer, allowing the pirates to gain 40 feet/round. When the pirates got within bow range, three of the pirates began firing longbows. The party, along with the four-man crew of barge, pulled up sections of the deck and used the sections as makeshift shields. The first arrow immediately killed the fat drunken barge captain.

As the pirates were closing, Gwen the elf summoned an eagle (+2 attack, 1d6 damage, AC 12, 2d8 HD, 40' flight), then fired a few volleys from her own longbow. One of the crewmembers, an elfish falconer, let loose his own falcon (+0 attack, 1d4 damage, AC 10, 1d6 HD, 40' fly) on the pirates. The eagle occupied one of the archers while the poor falcon was quickly cut down.  Gwen immediately summoned another animal, this time a pterodactyl (+4 attack, 1d8 damage, AC 12, 4d8 HD, 40' fly) I temporarily forgot you needed a piece of the creature in question to summon it, but I suggested it and Bill went with it).

Ultimately most of the arrows fired by either side went into the river.

Eventually, the canoes came alongside the barge and the pirates used grappling hooks and ropes to begin boarding. Valerius and the crew of the barge (four 0-level PCs played by Matt), set their weapons to receive boarders. Valerius immediately cut down the first boarder in one chop. The sight of the violence sent a shiver of hesitation through the pirates. The pirate captain (4 HD) and his three veterans (3 HD each) chose to hold back and let the younger pirates (all 2 HD) take care of the action (the captain and the three veterans, plus a few pirates, all failed their morale saves).

On the deck of the barge, the battle was furious and fluid. The crew held their own using pitchforks, shovels, and weapons donated by the party. Only one of the crew-members, a farmer, was killed by a pirate. Absalom the Holy Man cast Holy Sanctuary on himself so that he could provide succor to the wounded without impediment, then paralyzed one of the pirates. Gwen found herself near death (down to 1 HP) before repelling the boarders. Having seen the direction the battle had taken, the remaining pirates, their veterans, and their captain, chose to shove off and return up the Atrous River empty-handed.

The party healed their wounds and searched the bodies of the pirates. They looted chain mail armor and scimitars. On one pirate, they found a folded piece of paper.

Afterwards, the party continued down river to Wince. Wince is a small walled river-side village of about 400. The town a tower and keep, and a mill at the end of a long pier powered by a paddle-wheel, and a dock with several river barges and boats.  A group of angry dogs fought on the docks over a fish. The entire area is a patchwork of walled farms dotted with small compounds. While the merchant dealt with the gruff dock-master, the party removed their gear. While doing so, they discovered a woman being held prisoner in the bilge under one of the deck boards. They freed her and discovered that her name was Shau, that she was the daughter of one of the noble families of Thither, and that she was kidnapped by bandits when they raided her home and sold into slavery. The bastard ship captain purchased her six days ago and has kept her bound and gagged in the bilge ever since. She claimed that her family would pay a reward for her safe return!

The party was dismissed to their own recognizance for the evening. They were given group accommodations in the single inn and a stipend for essentials. It was suggested that Shau share a room with Gwen, the crew share a room, and Valerius and Absalom share a room. The party spent the night making plans, eating stew, and drinking ale.

In the middle of the night, Gwen the elf, who was new to having a physical form, woke to a strange new biological urge, a biological compulsion to which she was unfamiliar and by which she was startled and confused. She felt the urgent need to evacuate waste from the lower orifice of her corporeal shell. Confused by this sensation, she asked for guidance and assistance from her roommate. Shau suggested that Gwen utilize the village latrine behind the inn and provided a brief, and awkward, lesson in its usage.

Gwen darted outside and was almost run down by a speeding wagon. Annoyed and covered in mud, Gwen noticed the wagon come to a stop in front of a barn by the river and was met by several cloaked figures, whispering. After taking care of her more pressing needs, she decided to investigate.

She spied a clandestine transaction between four smugglers and half-a-dozen robed and hooded figures. After the smugglers unloaded nearly a dozen clay amphorae and demanded their payment, the hooded figures produced blowguns from their robes and shot each smuggler with a dart, causing them to fall instantly. Startled, Gwen ran back to the inn and roused the rest of the party, including the barge crew.

Geared up and seeing no one, the party of six brazenly approached the barn. Valerius opened the barn door to find a startled figure wearing a hooded robe preparing to exit said door. Both were surprised. After recovering their composure, both angrily demanded to know the others identity and to know what the other was doing here. A section of the wooden floor of the barn was opened, revealing a secret passage to an underground stairway. Annoyed by this stalemate, the robed figure turned to descend down the stairway to get help. Abasalom, thinking quickly, reached out and paralyzed the robed figure with a touch. After binding and gagging their quarry, Absalom noticed a strange tumorous lump in the abdomen of the prisoner. Unnerved by the sight, they left the prisoner alone and descended the stairs.

At the bottom of the stairs was an unlocked door. Opening it revealed a room lit with several glowing braziers. The floor of the room was carpeted in deadly snakes (+1 bite, 1 point damage + poison, AC 11, 1d8 HD, 5' move, 1/2 damage from non-area attacks).

A massive pillar a few feet in front of the door obstructed most of the view of the room. Several bookshelves were visible along the wall to the right. A door guarded by two robed figures stood on the wall to the left. A corridor disappeared around the corner to the far left. A large marble table was on the far wall piled with the bones of what appeared to be a gigantic snake.

A fight ensued, with Valerius battling the enraged snakes, Gwen uselessly firing arrows into the room, and one of the crew members loosing sling stones. One of the guards is immediately killed, another flees down the corridor, the rest fire blowguns at the intruders. Suddenly, a large two-headed snake erupted from the abdomen of the first fallen guard. Absalom doused the snakes in oil and set them ablaze while Valerius decapitated the remaining snakes. Absalom was hit by a blowgun dart and fell immediately unconscious. Depleted of darts and snakes, the guards charged forth, scimitars drawn. Unfortunately, one guard broke his weapon in the attack and the other was cleaved in twain by Valerius' mighty blade. Valerius mocked the other guard, offering his own weapon in order to continue the fight. The surviving guard, as well as his two companions, fled down the corridor. Finally, although it menaced the party, the two-headed abdomen-snake was quickly destroyed by Valerius.



It was another fun night. The group really seemed to enjoy the river barge fight. The morale rules felt natural and real. It made sense that the veterans became veterans by holding back and knowing when NOT to fight. Heh.

I totally forgot about the requirement of having a piece of the animal to summon. We will remember that next time. We figured an eagle feather and a young pterodactyl weren't out of the ordinary.

In other spellcaster news, Gwen's player can't wait to get to Thither to spend two weeks casting spells: one week for patron bond and one week for summon familiar. The Midkemia Press Cities book has tables for determining what happens to PCs during "down-time" and I can't wait to use them.

As a GM, I enjoy riffing off of player suggestions and also off of random events. In tonight's adventure, the addition of Shau happened when one of the players, Scott, suggested "We should search the captain's cabin, he probably had a prisoner in there." so I said, "There's no cabin, but you find a prisoner in the bilge." Bill absently minded said, "Be careful, she's probably a demon-witch!" to which I replied, "What? No!" and quickly wrote down "Demon-witch?" in my notes.

Likewise, the entire adventure with the cultists came from rolling a mundane random event in the middle of the night: Gwen is splashed by mud from a passing cart. That challenged me right off the bat by asking "Why would this happen in the middle of the night?" and I remembered that Gwen was an elf, and in the world of Agartha, Elves are spirit beings given mortal form in our world. They are unaccustomed to having physical bodies. Everything is new to her, and she has only had a body for 3 or 4 days now. Hey, she has to go to the outhouse! That got her outside.

I could have just left it at that but I had to think of a reason for myself why the wagon was going so fast in a walled village in the middle of the night. It seemed an odd event to me and one likely to provide investigation by a player. So I quickly thought of smugglers and cultists. At first the cultists were just going to be Hollow Ones from the DCC book but Scott said something about them being serpent men! So I changed them to snake cultists!

I always make sure to reward my players for coming up with story points like that. Scott one 1XP for Shau and 1 XP for the snake cultists. Bill got 1 XP for demon-witch idea (whether I use it or not).

In other news, this was our first game with Matt, and he was a great player. I recruited Matt from the G+ DCC Community. We had never met Matt before tonight. He fit right in and did a great job. He added a lot to the group and to the evening and everyone really enjoyed themselves.

By the way, we rolled for Gwen's elfish attributes.
She has pale white skin, white hair, and milky white orbs for eyes. She has two nub horns growing from her forehead.

Next week: room two of the Sinister Secret of the Serpent God!

Friday, January 17, 2014

Elves of the Otherworld

The Elves of Agartha are not like those of Tolkein's Middle Earth.

The Elves of Agartha are mysterious alien beings from the Otherworld, also known as Fairyland, Tir-na-Nog, and Elfland. The Otherworld is a parallel plane of existence, one of the seven sources of magic. The Otherworld is a realm of pure thought and energy, metaphor and imagination, emotion and meaning, a creative force and the source of light and life force in our world. In their native state, elves are beings of pure spirit, ethereal, composed of luminous energy and vitality, lacking physical form or spatial boundary.

When they cross over into our world, Elves must assume a physical form. When they do so, many of their material attributes are expressed as metaphors of their meaning. They often possess blood made from sap or honey and hair of leaves or moss. Their skin and eyes are usually pale in color but this, too, is variable and eccentric.

The following tables help create differentiated and unique elves for use in my Dungeon Crawl Classics campaign.


  1. Pointed ears
  2. Antlers
  3. 1 Horn
  4. 2 Horns
  5. 4 Horns
  6. Prongs
  7. Hare-lip
  8. Cranial Ridge
  9. Pointed Teeth
  10. Long Tongue
  11. Tree branches
  12. Pointed Head


  1. Chalk White
  2. Light Grey
  3. Pale Amber
  4. Charcoal Grey
  5. Chocolate Brown
  6. Coal Black
  7. Pale Green
  8. Pale Pink


  1.  Green
  2. White
  3. Black
  4. Grey
  5. Amber
  6. Purple
  7. Red
  8. Blue
  9. Bald
  10. Ivy leaves
  11. Feathers
  12. Moss 


  1.  Red with black pin-point
  2. Black orbs
  3. White with black Pin-point
  4. Brown orbs
  5. Amber with black pin-point
  6. Green with black pin-point
  7. Amber orbs
  8. Milky White orbs
  9. Grey with black pin-point
  10. White with green iris
  11. White with purple iris
  12. White with red iris
Example: The following results were randomly determined. Hit "Refresh" to determine new results.


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A Visual Guide to Swallow

The town of Swallow sits at the top of the Argent Falls, more commonly known as Silver Falls, where the Xanthus River drops one thousand feet from the highland plateau of Uthu to the lowland jungles of the Sarthrana gorge below. A twenty-foot wide inclined ramp leads up the cliff-face of the gorge, connecting the city to the boat landing below the falls. This strategic location has given Swallow command of all trade and traffic between the highlands and the lowlands. As a result, the people of Swallow have become wealthy and decadent.

Swallow was named for the birds that nest in the cliff-face during the summer months. The flag of Swallow is the silver silhouette of a fork-tailed swallow against a blue field.

The town has a permanent population of 2500 though dozens and sometimes hundreds of travelers may enter and leave the town each week.

Swallow is ancient, constructed 1800 years ago during the early Imperial Age. It boasts an impressive tunnel system beneath its streets to deliver water from the river to underground cisterns and water wheels. The tunnels, passages, and chambers go deep below the city and are often suffer infestations of giant rats, slugs, and beetles, degenerate rat-men and kobolds, and other tunnel-dwelling creatures. The city guard offers a reward (1d6 copper each) for the carcasses of said vermin, with  bonuses for the destruction of an entire warren (1 gold per 20 carcasses delivered at one time).

1. The Argent Falls, aka Silver Falls. The golden waters of the Xanthus river take on a silvery hue as they cascade one thousand feet to the jungle gorge below.

2. The Castle of Archon Hrundinin, Lord of the Swallows. Archon Hrundinin is middle-aged but still athletic and energetic (Level 6 Warrior). He is a plain-speaking man who dislikes double-talk and innuendo. He is sensitive and quick to take offense. Although he is powerful and possesses a harem of 5 wives, he is secretly a profoundly lonely and isolated man with no friends or confidants.

3. The Silver Funicular. This long inclined ramp was cut from the rock face of the gorge by an army of dwarfish slaves during the Imperial age. The ramp is twenty feet wide and over 3800 feet long and features a pair of funicular rails. Each rail hosts a small train of four connected rail cars: first class, steerage, livestock, and freight. Each car is massive, the size of a modern rail car, and is able to carry several tons as long as the opposite train has a similar mass. The weight of water added to the descending car pulls the ascending car. The cars make regular trips, leaving every hour. Use of the funicular costs 1 copper per leg or 1 copper per 100 pounds estimated weight.

4. The Plaza of Horthactus. The large cobblestone plaza serves as a gathering place for townspeople. The amphitheater seats 800 and overlooks the vista beyond the falls. The town often gathers here for official pronouncements, performances, executions, and gladiatorial contests.

5. The Temple of Justica, Goddess of Justice and Mercy. Magistrate Orthat is an elderly priest of Justica (Level 5 Cleric). On the archon's authority, he oversees legal court proceedings within this temple once a week. He has a long beard and a bald head. He is completely devoted to the concept of proper justice. Unfortunately, his assistant, Zhamach, is untrustworthy and corrupt, often accepting bribes or favors. Many merchants and townspeople seek the aid of the temple of Justica to resolve disputes.

6. The Temple Choranus, the Seer Father, Lord of Creation. Father Cteg (Level 5 Cleric) oversees a staff of 10 acolytes and priests. The temple is favored by the craftsmen and farmers of the town.

7. The Temple of Shul, Goddess of the Moon. The temple has a staff of 12 acolytes and 3 priests overseen by Mother Sona (Level 5 Cleric). The temple is popular with hunters and travelers.

8. The Temple of Ulesh, God of Peace. 20 monks study in the monastery attached to this temple overseen by Lama Ulaca (Level 4 Cleric). The temple is popular with scholars and travelers.

9. Patricians Row. This area of the waterfront is comprised of seven walled compounds protecting the mansions and households of the patricians of Swallow.

10. Merchants Row. Common-born merchants who have found commercial success in their transactions have constructed palatial houses here overlooking the river.

11. Workers Row. This neighborhood is home to overcrowded tenements and shanties of the working class. The streets are narrow and clogged with makeshift hovels. The area is rife with crime and is home to the Path of Fear and Thunder, a criminal gang that controls this section of Swallow as a kind of institution.

12. Artisans Row. The craftsmen and artisans of Swallow live and work in this district.

13. Drovers Row. The men who herd the aurochs on the surrounding countryside live in this collection of buildings. The tannery and slaughterhouses can also be found here.

14. The Livestock Pens. Aurochs and mouflon are herded from the surrounding countryside and brought into these livestock pens for slaughter.

15. The Public Bath House and Street Market. The plaza around the public bath house is home to a lively street market covered by tents and awnings. Craftsmen and farmers from all over the valley gather here to sell their wares to traveling merchants.

16. The Barracks. This imposing structure is home to the town guard (level 0-1 men-at-arms), a force of 100 guards commanded by 20 sergeants (level 2 warriors) and Captain Yano (level 4 warrior). Captain Yano is a grizzled cynical veteran in his fifties. He is happily married with fifteen children and is looking forward to his retirement. He is laconic with a gruff exterior but is a keen observer of others with a preternatural sense of what someone is secretly thinking or planning, especially criminals.

17. The Titan's Face. This massive stone face is all that remains of an half-buried statue of an unknown titan. The face is ancient beyond measure. Many myths and legends are told about the mysterious origin of the statue.

18. Bald Knob of Leggach. This area is a large outcrop of bare rock at the top of a hill. The ruins of an ancient castle lie at its apex. The ruins are little more than foundations and tunnels.

19. The Forest of Ath-Bo. The forests of the highland plateau of Uthu are coniferous evergreens. The forests west of town cover the slopes of the mountain known as Ath-Bo, the peak of which is home to the ancient citadel known as the Fortress of the Exile.

20. Hospitality Row. The inns, hostelries, and public houses that cater to the many travelers and merchants that pass through Swallow are found in this small district. Notable institutions include: The Tavern of the Centaurs, The Laughing Auroch, The Silver Funicular, The Gory Sword, et al.

Monday, January 13, 2014

A Visual Guide to Duirndown

1. The Thane's Keep - Home to Lothorn, hereditary thane of Duirndown. The town of Duirndown was a bustling trade center during Lothorn's grandfather's day. Today, much of the keep is abandoned, like the town itself. Lothorn's wife died several years ago, leaving the three children in the care of the nanny, Elichu. 

2. The Dwarf Bridge. The dwarfs of Durinhold built this dam and bridge several hundred years ago. The dam stores water for the mill (12) and the bridge provides access to the  entrance to Duirnhold (3).

3. The Entrance to Duirnhold. Gas-powered flames once burned night and day at the grand entrance to the under-city of Duirnhold. Today the flames are extinguished and the gates are magically sealed. The under-city fell to a massive catastrophe over fifty years ago. The mine boss declared the city off-limits and ordered the quarantine. 

4. The Amber Lake. The lake is forty feet deep and is home to a fish-like lizard called icthys. 

5. Temple of Tzann, the Sun Father, now abandoned.

6. Temple of Thumina, goddess of the moon, now abandoned.

7. Temple of Ordain Stoneshield the Mountain Lord, occupied by a few dwarfish acolytes.

8. The Waterfront. These ostentatious homes and walled compounds were once occupied by wealthy merchants, their families, and households. Many were abandoned over the last fifty years as dwarfish trade disappeared. Many commoners and craftsmen moved into the large drafty buildings before moving back into smaller cozier structures, leaving the edifices to slowly crumble and succumb to broken glass, weeds, and small trees. A few of the merchants still occupy their decaying mansions, shut away from the outside world and slowly going mad.

9. The Inn District. This row of inns, hostels, and bath houses were once busy with traders and travelers. Today, only one public house is still in operation. Most of the other buildings are occupied by the farmers' families.

10. The Stables. Dwarfish craftsmanship constructed underground animal stables built into the side of the hill. The stables are hundreds of years old are are rumored to connect to secret dwarfish tunnels underneath the town.

11. Terraced Fields. The Dwarfs terraced the side of the hill in order to create stepped fields for the humans to grow grains, corn, and potatoes. 

12. The Water Wheel. Water from the dam powers the wheel and in turn drives the mill. 

13. Artisan District. This area once housed skilled artisans and craftsmen and their shops. Carpenters, wainwrights, tailors, dyers, leatherworkers, and coopers once did their business here and lived in the upper floors. Stonemasons, armorers, and blacksmiths found it difficult to compete with the fine work of the dwarfs of Duirnhold. Only a handful of craftsmen remain. The abandoned structures are slowly crumbling.

14. The Oak Tree. This ancient oak tree was planted at the founding of the town over nine hundred years ago. The tree is massive and was once used to execute criminals.

16. The New Fields. This area was once the location of the hovels of the farmers, ditch-diggers, and menial laborers of Duirndown. After the exodus of the wealthy forty to fifty years ago, the poor that remained left their ramshackle homes and moved into the nicer abandoned structures. Eventually, the hovels were torn down and the open lots were turned into additional farming acreage. 

17. The Watchtower. This lone tower stands upon the pinnacle of a nearby hill. From this vantage, one may see the Standing Stones to the north, the Fortress of the Exile to the east-southeast, and the small tower in the village of Choke reaching above the trees to the east-northeast.

18. The Notice Board. This small board in the center of the town square is used to post bills and notices.

19. The Potter's Den. This tall structure, half-built into the side of the hill, was once home to a guild of dwarfish potters, clay workers, and sculptors. Such crafts were seen as unbecoming of a dwarf and were frowned upon in Duirnhold. The inhabitants of the potter's den were considered outcasts from the under-city, and were objects of derision. A few of their descendants remain.

20. The Stone Path. A zig-zagging path lined with paving stones leads down the embankment to the river below the dam. Another path leads up the far side. 

Saturday, January 11, 2014

More info about Duirndown

In the course of last night's adventure, we learned a few more details about the towns and denizens of the Xanthus River Valley.


The city of Duirndown is located near the headwaters of the Xanthus River. Here the river is barely forty feet wide cascading over rocks and small falls. In ancient times, the dwarfs built a dam across the river that also served as a bridge. The town is located on the east side of the dam, the elaborate fortified entrance to Duirnhold on the west side. The dam creates a small lake. A chute in the dam powers a water wheel and mill on the east side.

The town is run by a thane, a hereditary title. Because of the historical importance of trade with the dwarfs, a prominent dwarf was appointed as bailiff. This bailiff served as a sort of second-in-command.

Up until about 50 years ago, Duirndown was a major trade city with a population of around 5000. Merchants from throughout the valley and beyond would come to Duirndown in order to enter Duirnhold and trade with the dwarfs therein. The walled villas and compounds of wealthy merchants dotted the hillside around the town. During its heyday, the town was filled with impressive and imposing architecture that walked up the steep hillside like giant steps. The largest building was the baronial keep, its donjon, and towers.

When the dwarfs of Duirnhold fled their city, the population briefly grew to 11,000. This population was unsustainable and the excess dwarfs settled elsewhere in the valley. Over time, with the lack of trade with Duirnhold, people stopped coming to Duirndown. The wealth disappeared as the merchants and traders moved down to Thither or elsewhere.

Today, the town has a population of 200 and the great stone and marble architecture has crumbled into overgrown ruins, though a few are still occupied by the aged and corrupt denizens who refused to leave. For the most part, the area within the walls is empty. Most of the 200 remaining residents have congregated near the keep at the center of town. All but the largest and sturdiest of the great old buildings have been torn down to clear room for fields and pasture.

The town today has one blacksmith (and one apprentice) and there's not a lot of demand for weapons and armor. There is a wise-man, but no one with real magical or holy powers. The baron is little more than a town mayor and there is no longer a permanent garrison, only a few farmers who have volunteered to stand watch.

Things were greatly shaken up recently when twelve of the town's most able-bodied workers went up the hill to the standing stones because of an old story he heard from the wise-man. Only four returned. Soon afterwards, The four, accompanied by eight others, opened the sealed gate to Duirnhold. Only four returned from that foray. In a town of 200, the loss of seventeen townspeople, almost ten percent of the town's population, was a huge blow! The town has lost its wainwright, several farmers, and other key town positions. Luckily, a few were recent arrivals with a travelling merchant.  The little town has no more potential adventurers to give, and certainly no potential hirelings and henchmen from which to recruit.

"Duirn's Dream" Chapter 3 of the Xanthus River Campaign

Tonight was week three of Dungeon Crawl Classics - the Xanthus River Campaign.

The party emerged from the entrance to Duirnhold with the 9 dead party members from last week's fight with the traps, kobolds, slime monster, and slime zombie. I informed the players of a minor ret-con: the slime was not red, it was in fact black and oily, like tar, and stunk like a self-cleaning oven.

The group now consists of three first level characters:

Valerius the Squire, human warrior

Absalom the Witness, human cleric of Ildavir, goddess of nature

  • Detect Magic
  • Holy Sanctuary
  • Resist Cold or Heat
  • Paralysis

Gwen the Wanderer, the elfin archer-mage

  • Find Familiar
  • Patron Bond/Invoke Patron
  • Force Manipulation
  • Animal Summoning

Absalom, having heard the call of holy orders, provided burial rites for the slain. The town gathered round the standing stones while the ritual was performed. During the ritual, one of the fallen dwarfs began to leak blood from all orifices, as if all his blood was being pushed from his body. The blood was soon followed by a sticky black ichor bubbling greasy oily bubbles. The body rose, queasily, and lurched towards Gwen, bearer of the magic key that opened the gate to Duirnhold, reaching, grasping.

Gwen backed quickly away and loosed an arrow into the creature. Absalom quickly turned it and the loathsome thing fled. As it did so, Valerius hacked it down. As the animated corpse collapsed into various body parts, the sticky tar that controlled the body slopped onto the ground with a splat, then formed into a lumpy mass with writhing ropy tendrils. The mass continued to move away and was quickly slain.

The rest of the ritual proceeded normally. Afterwards, Absalom cast a Detect Magic spell and identified the fancy dwarfish dagger Valerius carried. It is a +1 dagger with 3 INT that communicates in vague impressions. The dagger is lawful and desires to a) build the greatest city in the world, b) build statues to fallen heroes, c) punish the guilty, and d) punish all thieves. The dagger, like most dwarfs, despises and distrusts users of magic. He names the dagger "Duirn's Dream".

He also identified the demon horn which can be used to summon and bond Ssisssuraaaaggg, the immortal demon-snake. He was not able to identify the proper use of the orb, which as far as anyone known emits a dim light and does not fall when let go.

The party decided to rest for a few days.

That night, I decided to roll for random village encounters in my old book: the Midkemia Press' Second Edition of Cities.

This book was AWESOME with random unplanned stuff!

Day 1, Day- a merchant is in town (random name = Kedrith Wynn) looking to hire guards for his "caravan" (a mule with a strong-box, some un-sold bolts of cloth, and items he's traded for so far). He's reached the end of the road and is heading back down the trail to the port city of Thither. He just lost his former guards in the dungeon and needs new help. He'll pay 6 copper a day to each guard, plus cover food (gruel) and lodhing (common room in the inn). Since that's where the PCs were going to go next, they took the job, leaving on the morrow.

Day 1, Evening - nothing happens. 

Day 1, Night - Absalom is eating at the local inn/public house when the Cities book encounter indicates an old blind beggar (random name = Jacobus) mistakes Absalom for someone else (Sergeant Killroy). I quickly improved a scene whereby Jacobus thinks Absalom is his old commander, "I haven't seen you since the war!" Jacobus ignores Absalom's protestations. to the contrary, "Oh sergeant, you are having fun with me. What are your orders sir?" Eventually Absalom gives in and orders Jacobus to guard the town. "Of course sir! I have been guarding it ever since you left to fight the Troglodytes at the Caves of Deathspire. You said you'd be back in four days. I followed your orders, sergeant. I stayed right here. I've been guarding this town ever since sergeant! And now you're finally back, and I'm reporting for duty!" Absalom took pity on the poor old man. He orders him to fall in on the morrow for a new mission. 

Day 2, Morning - the group gears up. I rolled randomly to see if Jacobus showed up. He did, almost too late. They put Jacobus on Gwen's pony and head off down the trail. No other event indicated.

No wilderness event was indicated on their journey to Choke.

Day 2, Noon - They arrive in Choke, a small walled town where the river narrows into a deep ravine. A bridge crosses the ravine at this location. I rolled an encounter with a town guard who correctly recognizes one of the characters, in this case Gwen. The town guard, Donnan (name supplied by a player), is attracted to Gwen. Gwen tries to hire the guard for the party but he has unfortunately recently taken employment with the baron as a man-at-arms. They have lunch in Choke and continue on. 

Throughout the journey, Valerius won't shut up about the city he's going to build. It will be glorious! A testament to the heroes of old! Etc!

No wilderness event was indicated on their journey to Swallow.

Day 2, Evening - They arrive in Swallow, a relatively large town of 2000, a trading center at the top of the waterfall of the Xanthus River as it cascades from the rugged highlands to the flatter lowlands. A switch-back road allows carts and pack animals up and down the cliff face. I rolled an random event: someone dumps their chamber pot on top of (random) Absalom's head! Absalom, the former gong farmer, is incensed and goes to the local bath-house to wash himself and anoint himself in perfumes and oils.

Day 2, Night - No events.

Day 3, Day - Jacobus is still alive. Kedrith informs the group they are stay an extra day in Swallow to conduct some business. Random event: the circus is in town, but people aren't happy with it. So while kicking around town, a wagon being pulled by a baluchitherium emerges from the cliff-side switchbacks. The wagon is carrying caged slaves, bound and chained, covered in filth. The baluchitherium is in poor health, malnourished and near death. The various traveling gypsies accompanying the small circus set up their act in the town square, where they are booed and people loose interest. 

The party inquires about the circus act. Another random roll later and they engage a local madman, carrying a sandwich-board declaring the imminent end of the world. The madman tells them it is a circus act, and not a very good one. They were much better last year. In addition, "The world will be ending soon! The Oil will consume us all! Beware the Oil! You have been touched by the Oil! Unclean! Foulness! Begone from my sight!" Foreshadowing? Nahh.. What's that mean?

Valerius is annoyed by the state of the slaves, billed as "wild beast-men from the southern jungles" but obviously captured urchins made to look savage, as well as the beast, which he has dreams of riding as a mount. He inquires with the owner of the act, who informs him that times are hard. Pirates raid the river below and he lost his best performers to an attack. He'd be willing to sell the lot for 1000 gold or just the baluchitherium for 100 gold. Valerius declines and goes on his way for now. He informs Kedrith of the pirates. 

Day 3, Evening - No events.

Day 3, Night - No events.

Day 4, Day - Jacobus is still alive. The party loads up and heads down the switchback road. Kedrith hires and boards a river-boat, a wide flat-bottomed barge-skiff manned by 8 oarsmen and a captain. They travel down the wide slow river, surrounded on both sides by a steep gorge and forests. 

No wilderness event was indicated on their journey down-river.

As they approach the confluence of the Xanthus and Atrous Rivers, I decide to intervene with a semi-planned event. They see four swift war-canoes bearing a mixture of human and hobgoblin river pirates bearing down on their river boat.They quickly prepare for boarding action!

We left it there on a cliff-hanger. We're going to pick up next week with the river battle! 


I'm totally setting up for a plot arc within Duirnhold. Not a rail-road mind you. This is still a sand-box and the characters can go anywhere and do anything they want. But things are happening off-screen and there are bigger stories afoot. 

In other news, I am LOVING the random encounters of the city book. They are just amazingly inspiring! I had such a good time ad-libbing all the encounters and events and the players did a great job reacting to them and rolling with them. 

I also used some random tables from the Ultimate Toolbox by AEG.

So far, I am having a good time running this game and it seems like my players are enjoying it.