Friday, April 27, 2012

A Week in the Life of a Witch Hunter: Solo Session 2

Sir Fallon was up before dawn to meet with the guards assigned to him. They were a sorry lot, not the worst that the Talingarde armed forces had to offer, but far from the best as well. When they had mustered he took the pile of drawings that the acolytes had made and distributed them, two to a man. He then divided the 50 soldiers, 25 to search the section of Aldencross south of the watch wall, and 25 to accompany him to search the north side.

“Alright men, we have few leads and little time. Our quarry managed to infiltrate Tower Balentyne and murdered several men, so they are not to be underestimated. Always stay in your groups…do not allow yourselves to become separated. You’ve all been here a while, you know the people of Aldencross. Warn them. Question them. We need as many people looking for the perpetrators as possible. If you see anyone you do not know, detain them…And if you detect any threat, sound your signal horns. We need success, not heroes…”

He dismissed the men to their searches, joining the last group out the gate. He sniffed the cold morning air. The smell of magic was weaker outside the keep, faint, but undeniable. The trail inside the keep had run cold as he searched last night. Several guards, though none assigned to him, had the stink on them, but, outside of the rookery and mage’s quarters, their were no concentrations in the tower. That meant that the witches must be in the town…if they had not fled altogether.

The guards spread out once they were out of the keep. They went door to door, knocking, questioning, startling townsfolk from their sleep. They hung the wanted posters at every street crossing, every notice board. Sir Fallon followed, watching them, observing the people that they roused from slumber, sniffing. An hour passed. There was nothing. The town was clean.

And then the rain started.

Just as the sky was lightening a storm blew in, and fast. It had none of the preamble of a natural storm. No clouds moving in. No warning breeze. In just a few minutes the sky changed from a clear spring morning to pouring down sheets of rain. Rain that reeked of witchcraft. Where only a minute ago he had smelled nothing, now the entire city stank. Every drop of rain, every overflowing gutter, every water-streaked window bore the stink of powerful magic. Sir Fallon hung his head in despair and let the rain soak into his boots…he had lost. He wouldn’t be able to sniff out anything as long as this magical deluge lasted. He urged the guards to keep up despite the rain. While he had no chance of sniffing out the witches, they might still find someone who had seen the old serving man from the night before.

It was late evening when Sir Fallon finally called a halt to the search. The guards, sopping wet, regrouped outside the central gate separating the two halves of the town and reported. No one in town had ever seen the man on the posters. Every house had been searched, every person in town had been questioned. The few strangers in town were all merchants, and the guards who had questioned them insisted that they were the most perfectly amiable, good-natured, normal-seeming folks they had ever met.

Only after the last guard had reported did Sir Fallon notice something. Several of the guards, all of whom had reported meeting some of these “good-natured” strangers, has a certain slackness to their features, a slight staring, unfocused quality to their gaze. They had been charmed. He couldn’t smell them, but had found his witches after all…

Sir Fallon questioned the charmed guards, having them recount when and where they had met these kind strangers. After an hour of questioning, he carefully reconstructed the accounts. It seemed as if the witches had been stalking the guards as much as they had been searching for the witches. While the descriptions of the merchants varied, the times and locations of the encounters implied that it was the same three people, working their way systematically through town…and starting from the Inn on the north side of town. The first group of guards to mention them spoke of meeting a nice family of six in the Inn first thing in the morning, just as the storm had started. Sir Fallon dismissed the guards, he could certainly dispel the charms on a few, but too many had been infected. If he was going to cure them he had to find the witches and put an end to their evil.

Fighting the fatigue of having stayed up too late the night before and the sickening smell of a city drenched in magical rain, Sir Fallon ran for the inn as fast as he could. His boots slid in the thick mud and splashed through the deep puddles that made up the streets north of the wall. In many places the water had pooled so deeply that he had to cover his nose to keep from retching at the smell. While his nose had gotten him out of a lot of trouble in the past, his ability to keenly smell out witchcraft now seemed a liability.

Sir Fallon skidded to a stop just outside the door to the inn and shoved open the door to the common room to find the place bustling. While it was not surprising to find the inn busy on such a wet night, he was not ready for the site that greeted him. Wine, ale, and stronger drink were flowing freely and everyone was laughing and carrying on. When he entered their were a few cheers and everyone waved at him…there were even a few random calls of “Norm!” At first he was certain that they had just mistaken him for a local personality, but then he noticed the look. Everyone in the bar, the barkeep, the serving girls, the dancing girls, and every patron had the same slack-faced, glazed-eyed look as the guards. They were all under the witch’s spell, every last one of them.

With a cry of frustration and rage Sir Fallon lashed out at the nearest patron, calling on the holy power of Mitra to undo the witch’s curses. It only took a few blows to cleanse enough people of the enchantment for a brawl to break out. People fled, tables were over turned, chairs and fists went flying. Sir Fallon didn’t care. The entire town had been bewitched right under his nose. The witches could be long gone by now, but they had done their damage. Between the magical storm and the charmed townsfolk he would never be able to find the witches.

He lashed out around him, striking as many people as he could with no thought of defense. The more he could hit, the more he might be able to free. He took blow after blow as the drunken, mind-controlled mob descended on him. But he was strong. The more he hit, the more allies he had. The more he hit the safer the town became.

The fight stretched on for minutes, combatants steadily dropping to the floor or running for safety from the enraged witch-hunter. In the end Sir Fallon found himself faced off against a septet of drunken, charmed dwarves. He had always heard that dwarves were naturally resistant to magic…of course, he’d also never heard of an entire town being enchanted in a day. The thing that always made witches catchable was that they tended to have limited reserves of power. Just as he could not dispel an infinite number of magics, so witches were not supposed to be able to affect people on this scale. But now he had seen it. His powers were spent, and the witches’ clearly were not.

Sir Fallon stumbled with fatigue and took a hard blow to the midsection from the leading dwarf. Sure that this would be the end, he called once more in Mitra—if he could not cure everyone in town, he could at least win this fight. Holy flames engulfed his hand and he threw all his weight behind the next punch…but he wasn’t fast enough. The dwarves upended a table in front of them and the explosive power of his attack caused the old wooden furniture to burst into gleaming life, red and yellow flames licking along its surface.

Only then did Sir Fallon realize what he had done. The place was a matchbox, made entirely of wood from ceiling to floor and everything was soaked in spilled liquor. When the flames reached the kitchen there was an explosion. Flour? Oil? It didn’t matter what had caught, just that it had. The inn filled with fire. He heard breaking glass from above…probably the patrons who had sought refuge in their room escaping through the windows.

He stumbled out into the street to find that a mob had gathered. While people had fled the fight, they had not fled far, and others had come to watch. As the fire spread through the inn the crowd grew. He walked out into the arms of at least a hundred people, the magic-laden puddles of rain and the people’s enchantment-glazed eyes reflected the light of the burning building eerily. Then a cry went up from the people. “Murderer!” they yelled. “Arsonist!” cried others. Fingers pointed his way. Then fists. Then clubs, knives, and pitchforks.

He ran.

As the angry mob chased him out of town, north, towards the cold, uncharted lands north of the Watch Wall he could see the fires spreading. Gouts of flames seemed to leap from building to building as if the fire were a living thing. Where he expected the rain to suppress the fire it did not. Some buildings seemed to ignite without being anywhere near the initial conflagration. By the time he crested the last hill and Aldencross faded from sight the entire town north of the wall was ablaze…

Thursday, April 26, 2012

A Week in the Life of a Witch Hunter: Solo Session 1

Dusk was settling as the rider finally caught sight of Tower Balentyne. Sir Fallon reigned in his horse, Cazador, and pulled his cloak tighter about him. Even with the spring thaw coming on, these northern climbs were too cold for his liking. It had been two weeks since he had been reassigned. His friends had been left behind to continue overseeing the repairs to Branderscar Prison, while he had been sent north to the Watch Wall to investigate rumors of impropriety among the garrison.

Since the destruction of Branderscar and his discovery of the corruption among the guards, the king had been adamant that any similar misconduct be dealt with harshly. Even now, three months later, the prisoners of Branderscar were still at large, somehow evading Mitra’s Watchful Eye. Time and again over the last months, Sir Fallon had pleaded with his majesty to allow him to go in search of the escapees. Finally, though those requests continued to be denied, he was assigned as special inquisitor for the crown, tasked with visiting the keeps along the Watch Wall to ensure that they had no troubles similar to those in Branderscar. Tower Balantyne was the first on his list. Rumors carried by guards, reassigned to other quarters, spoke of the tower’s mage conducting unusual experiments, of alcohol abuse among the captainry, and even of a feud between captains over a woman.

Sir Fallon urged Cazador on, into the town of Aldencross. It was small, dirty, everything he’d come to expect from the borderlands. The roads were cobbled, but the caked mud on the street spoke of excessive traffic from the other side of the Wall, where, he knew, no such efforts at road maintenance would have been made. The Wall itself towered black and foreboding in the early evening shade, separating the two halves of the town. Then, just as he was passing the clean white walls of the town church he smelled it. A witch! More than one actually, recent, and within the walls of Mitra’s holy church.

His hand went to his axe and he spurred Cazador forward with greater haste. A few townsfolk dodged aside as the great warhorse barreled through the streets towards Tower Balentyne. He did not stop until he reached the gates of the keep.

The keep itself was a bustle of activity. Everyone seemed to be awake. Guards patrolled the walls in threes and fours, bullseye lanterns sweeping in every direction, the gates were barred, and Sir Fallon heard a great deal of commotion from within. “Ho!” he called at the gate, “open in the name of His Majesty, King Markadian the Brave, the fifth of his name, Protector of the Righteous!”

“Who’s there?” came the returning cry from the wall.

“Sir Fallon Nightly, Special Inquisitor to His Majesty! I have business with Lord Havelyn!”

Sir Fallon heard a muffled discussion above and then the reply. “Stand clear then, we’re opening the gate. When its down come through quickly, the keep is on alert.”

As soon as Sir Fallon was inside the walls his nostrils flared. The witches had been here too. “What’s happened here?” he demanded of the nearest guard as he dismounted from Cazador.

“There was a murder sir. Magister Tacitus went mad, blasted Old Martin Rayard out a window, and burned the rookery. Then his pet golem got loose. Killed twenty men it did! They say they found most of the bodies, but a passel of servants have gone missing too…”

“Where is Lord Havelyn now?”

“Up in the rookery with Father Donnagin and Captain Eddarly, sir.”

“Very well,” he handed the man his reigns, “see that the horse gets fed and groomed. I’m going to see the commander…”

“Now sir?”


Sir Fallon walked into the rookery to find the bald-pated chaplain, Father Donnagin, a clearly too-attractive-for-his-own-good man in a captain’s uniform, and Lord Havelyn examining a blackened corpse on the floor.
The captain gave him a withering stare as he walked through the door, “Who’re you then? This is a private meeting, officers only.”

Sir Fallon sniffed at him contemptuously. “Shut up. You stink of witch-craft. You shouldn’t be here…”
“You must be Sir Fallon, the Special Inquisitor.” Lord Havelyn stepped past the impolite captain and shook Sir Fallon’s hand. “You’ve arrived just in time, Father Donnagin was just about to interrogate Magister Tacitus.”

“Magister Tacitus?”

“The corpse,” Father Donnagin corrected. “This body belonged to our mage. I was just about to question him regarding the recent events…”

“Then by all means, go ahead.” Sir Fallon knelt beside the body. “It smells as if powerful sorceries were used here recently…”

Father Donnagin placed a blessed wafer in the corpse’s mouth and chanted a prayer to Mitra. “Tacitus of Morimun, Magister of Balentyne, I, Father Donnagin, Chaplain of Balentyne and Archdeacon of Mitra bid you speak. Answer me, who killed you?”

The corpse’s eyes opened in their blackened sockets, and a rattling hiss escaped for its lips. “I did,” it gasped out.

Lord Havelyn shook his head. “Suicide? A monstrous crime. His soul will burn in the fires of Asmodues.” Lord Havelyn bowed his head. “I never would have suspected he was that disturbed.”

Father Donnagin addressed the deceased again, “Magister Tacitus, did you kill Martin Rayard?”

Again the corpse rasped out, “Noooo…”

“Then who killed him?” Father Donnagin looked incredulously at the the mage’s body.


“This is getting us nowhere.” Sir Fallon interjected, “Father may I question him?”

“I’m afraid that’s the last question allowed by the spell…” Father Donnagin replied. Sure enough, as he spoke, the corpse’s eyes closed and the breath left it. “I will make preparations so that we might question him more after morning prayers.”

“And in the meantime the servants that killed the bird-keeper will have escaped…” Sir Fallon began stalking about the small room. “All of these birds were killed by magic. The walls are burned. Clearly the Magister used his magic to kill himself and destroy the room, but what happened to the rooker.”

“Sir Fallon,” the captain spoke up, “when my men and I were dealing with the Magister’s golem, there was an old serving-man in the Magister’s rooms, and there was another who met us on the stairs as we were rushing to investigate the rookery. A girl.” A gleam in the captain’s eye as he said this told Sir Fallon that the girl was probably an attractive one. “She told us about the Magister blowing up himself and the rookery and killing Old, Mad Martin.”

Sir Fallon sniffed the captain again. “You touched her?”

“Yes? What’s that got to do with anything?”

“She was a witch, her stink is all over you. Where are these two servants now?”

“I…I don’t know sir. They disappeared while we were battling the golem.”

“And where was that? Take me there…”

The captain snapped to attention and led Sir Fallon and the other officers downstairs to the mage’s chambers. The door to the chambers were broken and splintered. A pair of saw-horses had been set in front of the door as a temporary barricade and four guards were stationed in front. Pushing past the guards, Sir Fallon found a room in shambles. Tables and book-cases were knocked over. Huge gouges in the walls and floors, and splatters of blood on every surface showed signs of a great battle. And the smell…
Sir Fallon retched, spilling his last meal on the floor to mingle with the smells of blood and witchcraft. When he had recovered he sniffed around the room, stopping at a gap between two bookcases. “They were here. Several witches. They used some powerful magic in this room…”

“But…” the captain spoke up again. “When we were fighting, I’m sure there was another bookcase there.”

“An illusion?” Sir Fallon began walking around the room, touching everything. “Hmmm…the rest of this seems real enough. Captain…?”

“Eddarly, sir. Captain Zack Eddarly.”

“Captain Eddarly, can you describe the two that you saw?” Sir Fallon turned to the chaplain, “Father Donnagin, can you round up all the other guards who were on duty at the time of the attack?” The chaplain nodded and departed immediately.

After hours of questioning guards Sir Fallon was tired and frustrated. No one in the keep, save Captain Eddarly, had any recollection of having seen the girl the captain had described, even the guards who were with the captain at the time could not remember her. And the captain’s own descriptions were vague and useless, speaking more about her beauty and sense of desperation than any real description of her appearance or features. The more Sir Fallon heard, the more he was convinced that the keep had been infiltrated by witches. The Magister may have been in league with them, and he was certain that Captain Eddarly had been bewitched…and that he might, indeed, still be under their influence.

Sir Fallon went to Lord Havelyn’s rooms and knocked on the door. When he was admitted he bowed to the keep’s commander and explained what he had learned, or not. “I need to begin searching immediately while the trail is still fresh. We have a good description of the old man and he clearly managed to leave the keep before the lock-down. I need as many men as you can spare to begin searching the town for the man, its possible that the witches will be with him.”

Just then, Father Donnagin came in, “the acolytes have finished the drawings you requested Special Inquisitor.”

“Thank you, Father.” Sir Fallon, took the stack of papers from him, stifling a yawn. “I’ll head out at once and begin searching for the culprits.”

“But, Sir,” Father Donnagin interrupted, “its almost two of the morning. Surely you can rest a little before continuing.” Sir Fallon nodded, grudgingly.

“I’ll have fifty of our best men waiting for you buy the gate at sun-up.” Lord Havelyn said. “And I’ll send out the heralds to begin posting the drawings of the old man immediately. When the town awakes we’ll be ready…”

Sir Fallon nodded politely and turned to leave. “I’ll be claiming the Magister’s quarters. If I’m not awake in time for Matins, send an acolyte for me…”

Monday, April 2, 2012

Greyhawk Ruins Session 1

So, last night I started a new campaign, running a group of four players through the AD&D 2nd Edition module Greyhawk Ruins by Blake Mobley and Tim Brown.

Here are the results of the first session...

It was a quiet day, or as quiet as a day can be in a monastery dedicated to the god of eccentricity. Bill “Primus” Sikes peeled the last banana and groaned. Thirteen thousand, nine-hundred, and ninety-nine similar peels sat piled beside him and even his expansive halfling stomach was beginning to strain uncomfortably from the a ton and a half of fruit it now contained. Hesitantly he moved the fruit to his mouth. It had been a command from the abbot — they needed 14000 banana peels to cover the road which Zagyg’s new acolytes would be running as part of their initiation. Fourteen thousand banana peels meant fourteen thousand bananas.

Just as Bill was about to shove the last banana in his mouth the abbot appeared. Abbot Ernest was short, even for a halfling, but made up for his slight stature with subdued and stately garb. He wore ballooning pantaloons and a fine doublet slashed in purple corduroy and pink velvet, fine shoes of purple leather with elegantly turned up toes, a matching purple half-cape, a large floppy hat of pink velvet, and, most prominently, he wore Zagyg’s holy symbol proudly displayed on a medallion on his chest. Bill quickly averted his eyes from the medallion lest he be stricken as mad as his god.

Abbot Ernest took a banana peel from the pile and placed it on top of Bill’s head. “Good, good, tomorrow’s ceremonies will be quite fun thanks to all your hard work Brother Sikes. Now, I have two more tasks for you…not related to the initiations but equally important…” The abbot spoke with deep gravity and purpose, alternately opening and closing one eye and then the other to get a better perspective on Bill. “First, Brother Sikes, I must ask that you make sure our latrines are full, a task which I believe you are uniquely suited for.”

The abbot paused, acknowledging the look of relief on Bill’s face before continuing. ’Secondly, I am assigning you a holy quest! A QUEST! The mortal remains of our Lord Zagyg lie interred beneath his tower which lies on the outskirts of the city, you shall go to the tower and fetch his remains, for Lord Zagyg as informed us that he wishes his body to be fired out of a cannon held by a giant with two thumbs on each hand. You are free to keep whatever other holy relics you can find in the tower catacombs."

Bill nodded his assent, shoved the banana in his mouth, and ran for the loo keeping his eyes carefully fixed on his feet lest he catch a glimpse of the holy symbol.

Several hours later, after having relieved himself, Bill sought out his three companions in the faith. Brothers Tilliam Well, Wedge Potts, and Semilroth the Verbacious sat in the common room of the abbey playing at dominoes. Bill sighed with relief when he noted that none of them were so pious as to wear their holy symbols openly and sat himself down at the table. He quickly described the holy mission given to him by the abbot and, after brief discussion, the four halflings decided that they should set off that evening.

As his friends went to gather their belongings and supplies, Bill carefully camouflaged himself. The brothers had agreed that they should approach the tower by stealth so as not to attract the attention of any “takers of opportunity”, so Bill carefully glued three wispy pine branches to his back and made himself a hat and hood of dried, fallen oak-leaves. Confident that he would now be indistinguishable from the surrounding shrubbery, Bill grabbed his crook, collected his sheep, Dolly and Parton, and ran to meet his friends at the abbey gate to set out on their great adventure.

As they neared the ruins the party came upon a large stone falcon, nearly seven feet tall and leaning precariously against a tree. Tilliam and Semilroth immediately decided that they should try to move it, with the unfortunate results of Tilliam being pinned under the thing when it slipped away from the supporting tree. After some ineffectual straining to move the thing the party managed to dig Tilliam out and proceeded on their journey.

Roughly two hours after leaving town the party came to a deep chasm crossed by a very narrow and treacherous-looking stone bridge over three-hundred feet in length. On the far side they could see the walls of the keep of Castle Greyhawk and the three towers beyond, silhouetted against the bright gibbous moon. Deep in the chasm, nearly a hundred feet below, they could see the banners and watchfires of a large encampment of orcs.

Screwing up his courage, Bill led the way out onto the bridge, driving Dolly and Parton before him. The going was slow from the start and Bill had to fight hard not to look down. Not more than a quarter of the way across Dolly the sheep looked down, froze, and began bleating loudly. Bill, thinking fast, created an illusion of tall stone walls rising on either side of the bridge and fine green grass on the far side. Thus calmed, the sheep allowed Bill to drive them to the far side with no additional interruptions.

Just as Bill and the sheep reached the far ledge, he heard Tilliam spluttering behind him. He looked back to see Tilliam wildly gesticulating towards the far side. When Bill turned back around he saw a massive ogre bearing a long hook-like pole weapon barring his path. The beast roared and Tilliam quickly translated that it said something about mutton. The party offered up Parton and the beast, smiling greatly at the free meal, turned and let them be.

Sliding inside the curtain wall, the four halflings and one sheep made their way quietly towards the central tower, maneuvering around the various dilapidated buildings that marked the old castle town, trying to avoid the large group of ogres they could see encamped within. As they crept past the ogre camp, Tilliam peeked through the window of a half-collapsed building and noticed a massive pile of coins and gems accumulated by the ogres. Wedge quickly boosted Bill through the window, who proceeded to begin filling bags with the loot and passing it out the window to the others.

As Bill passed the second bag of treasure out, he accidentally knocked over some of the coins alerting the ogres. Tilliam quickly set Dolly the sheep on fire, sending the beast bleating and running out away from the four halflings. Seeing fresh, and self-cooking, meat, the ogres quickly turned away from the sound of scattering coins and went rushing after the sheep. For good measure, Semilroth conjured a number of horses into the ogre camp using his wand of communal mount. The ogres thus distracted, the party crept away, laden with treasure and quickly made their way to the entrance to the tower dungeons.

Through a towering archway in the base of the tower, the party found a set of wide stone stairs spiraling down into the darkness. With Semilroth and Tilliam bearing lights and leading the way, they carefully made their way down the stairs. As they passed the first landing, a massive iron portcullis dropped from the ceiling behind them, sealing them inside. At the third landing another portcullis also closed. Thus trapped with no way to go back, they pressed on.

At the fourth landing Tilliam spotted a number of long, green, clawed arms peaking out of the back wall. Not wanting to tangle with whatever was attached to the arms, the party made a mad dash down the stairs. Tilliam tripped and went skidding and screaming down the stairs and through the wall of the next landing…into a room filled with corpses. Once he recovered from the shock and stopped screaming, Tilliam noticed that the skeletal corpses were both not moving and were clutching a vast array of valuables. He quickly gathered up piles of gems, stripped the corpses of their finely made armor, tied a rope around a large chest, and dragged the loot back out of the illusory wall to his friends.

Now well armored and feeling as rich as kings, the party descended the last few flights of stairs. Only one more turning of the stairs from the bottom, Wedge, bringing up the rear, stepped on something. He felt the stair give slightly under his foot and the party heard the sound of breaking glass. Within moments the stairwell began to fill with a thick cloud of gray-green vapor. Semilroth opened his mouth to scream again, taking in a lung-full of the poisonous mist and dropped dead on the spot, tumbling down the stairs. Seeing this the others bolted for the bottom, trying hard to avoid breathing the gas and plowing right over a number of caltrops that someone had spread over the stairs. Wedge managed to kick Semilroth ahead of him as he, Bill, and Tilliam tumbled the last fifteen feet to the bottom, smashing hard into a heavy wooden door.

Once they had recovered, the group thanked Zagyg that the poisonous cloud appeared to be lighter than the air of the dungeon and was rising up the stairs away from them. Catching their breath, now that they could, they paused to take stock of their situation and strip Semilroth of any useful gear.