Roland and the Ogres

During our last Man Day Dungeon World game, my son Christopher lost another character. His cleric, Brother Hurak, fell in combat against the forces of evil. This week, while we’re on Christmas vacation, Christopher made up his new character, Roland the Paladin, and we decided to take him out for a test drive. I downloaded Michael Prescott’s Tannòch Rest-of-Kings, and started to ask Christopher some questions:

Q. Why are you going back to Tannòch?
A. To visit the nuns who nursed me back to health. Also, to visit the mausoleum to see if it reveals anything interesting about the history of the region.

Q. Why did you need nursing?
A. Injured by cannon shot during a fight against paynim pirates.

Q. Mother Marta doesn’t like you. Why?
A. I offended her somehow. (The nature of the offense remains undefined.)

Q. To get to Tannòch, you have to take a boat from a nearby island settlement. What is that settlement’s name?
A. Pterx.

Roland started on the beach near Pterx. The natives mostly earn their livelihood by fishing. Roland approached the village chief and asked about passage to Tannòch. Robert, the chief, named a price, but Roland confessed he had no coins. He did offer to work for his passage, so Robert introduced Roland to Kemp and his sons, Jethro and Jedd. Kemp told Roland that he could earn his passage by working the following day out of the reef, diving for oysters. Roland agreed and spent a quiet night on the beach.

Early in the morning, Kemp woke Roland, who left behind most of his gear since scalemail and a halberd wouldn’t be much use in an outrigger canoe heading out for oysters. Kemp instructed Roland as the proper use of a sturdy fishing knife and the net-bag tied to his belt. Roland dived with Jethro. The first few dives were uneventful, but during the third dive Roland noticed that Jethro had vanished. Thinking quickly, Roland found Jethro grappling with a deadly hooked octopus in a recessed section of the reef. Roland swam to the rescue, bringing his bear hands to bare against the dangerous cephalopod mollusc. The fight was short and fierce, and Roland drove the creature away, but not before he’d suffered some injuries. Jethro had been hurt badly.

When the group returned to Pterx, news of Roland’s heroic rescue of Jethro spread quickly. He was feted by the locals, hailed as a man of courage and nobility. Chief Robert gave him a finely made scarlet cloak as a gift. The next day, refreshed and ready, Kemp personally rowed Roland out to Tannòch, saying he’d be back in a week to fetch the paladin. Roland climbed up the rugged caldera until the interior saltwater lake came into sight. There, in the lake’s middle, stood Rest-of-Kings. Roland took one of the rowboats tied up at the nearby quay.

Tying off the boat at the base of the stairs leading switchback up to the tower, Roland began the climb. He was about halfway up to the door when a hulking figure, silhouetted by the noonday sun, lurched into view atop the parapet.

“Leave tribute to me, or I’ll kill you and lick your brains from the bowl of your skull!” the figure growled.

“Who are you?” Roland replied.

The figure lobbed a sizeable rock at Roland. The paladin through himself forward, avoiding the stone, which smashed into the stairs behind him. Unfortunately, he landed clumsily, and the impact jarred his halberd from his grasp. The weapon slid over the edge of the stairs, dropping several yards before it wedged in a rocky crack. Roland slid over the edge, dropping after his weapon. Another rock struck him from behind, spinning him into the air. He rolled and bounced, and both he and his halberd splashed into the water below. Standing waist deep in warm saltwater, Roland spotted a sinewy, slick-skinned monstrous humanoid slicing through the water. As it lunged out of the water, claws and fangs bared, Roland snatched up his halberd and attacked. The polearm bit deep into the ogre’s body, but the monster’s momentum slammed Roland hard into the rocks.

Taking stock of his injuries and surroundings, Roland noticed the half-eaten corpse of a nun in the water nearby. The glint of metal in her clenched fingers caught his eye. Roland pried the ring of keys from her dead hand. He also noticed that a deep crevice in the rocks at the waterline led into a cave. Figuring the rock-tosser on the parapet couldn’t hit him if he were underground, Roland entered the cave. He climbed up a bit and found a relatively flat surface on which he could rest. Time passed.

Hours later, Roland lit his lantern and explored deeper into the caves. He eventually found himself in a higher, smaller cave. Part of the cave wall had been dug away, revealing a brick wall, which had been partially breached, presumably by the now-dead dwarf lying under some rubble. Roland squeezed his way through the gap in the wall, finding himself in the mausoleum in the tower’s substructure. It soon became obvious that someone or something had been smashing open the burial spaces and breaking the urns kept therein. Roland soon found the looter, a monstrous, one-eyed ogre. Before Roland could act, a gust of charnel-house wind roared through the chamber, and Roland’s lantern went out, plunging the paladin into absolute darkness. An instant later, the monster lifted Roland and hurled him roughly against a wall. The lantern shattered.

“Give me the diadem of the weylords,” a sibilant voice hissed in the blackness.

Fumbling in the dark for a torch, Roland stalled, admitting he didn’t have the diadem. He asked why it was desired.

“My master, Halad al Bim, promised it to me, but upon his death, it was brought to this place and interred herein.”

Roland remembered that he had seen a tomb marker with Halad’s name engraved upon it. “I can take you there if I can see,” the paladin said.

Shortly, the torch was lit. The monstrous creature, who called itself Stanus Ash-Eater, made promises that Roland knew would not be kept. He also deduced that the monster’s bizarre appearance probably meant that Stanus was not a natural ogre, but had been magically transformed into his current shape. Roland, followed by Stanus, returned to Halad’s tomb marker. The paladin opened it and pulled out the urn. Stanus roared, exhaling noxious black fumes which forced their way into Roland’s lungs, inducing weakness. Roland invoked his divine authority and told Stanus to back off. The ogre retreated, but demanded the diadem. Roland dug into the urn, discovering nothing but ashes.

“It’s not here,” Roland said.

Stanus charged. The fight was brief and bloody. Roland rammed his halberd’s spike into Stanus’s good eye, driving the monster across the room, crushing his skull against the stones. Roland sustained injuries as Stanus’s powerful arms lashed out before the ogre died.

“Oh, thank Cicollius,” said a woman’s voice.

Roland whirled about to see Mother Marta standing near the opposite wall.

“You must help me, Roland,” Mother Marta said. “This ogre is not the only one who….”

Her words trailed off. Roland caught movement out of the corner of his eye. Rising from a pool of Stanus’s blood mixed with funerary ashes was an emaciated figure, covered in gore. Its eyes burned with madness.

“At last, I live again! Return to me my diadem!”

Roland interposed himself between the ghoul and Mother Marta just as the senior nun disappeared into the wall. The ghoul’s powerful, fanged maw crunched into Roland’s right elbow. As the paladin staggered away, the ghoul noisily chewed and swallowed bone and flesh.

“Mother Marta is the one I seek,” it gurgled, and then raced off into the darkness.

Roland, seriously injured, collapsed.

“Get up, Roland,” Mother Marta said, stepping back through the wall. “No time to rest. I cannot evade that creature forever. Take this dagger. You can’t wield that halberd with only one arm.”

Mother Marta bound up Roland’s wounds with special wrappings and poultices, healing some of his lesser injuries.

“How are you able to move through walls? Are you a ghost?”

“Tut, tut, young man. I’m no such thing. I carry with me the collected artifacts stored in Rest-of-Kings, including the periapt of the earthen kings. With it, I move through stone as if it were water.”

“Take me out of here,” Roland demanded.

“It doesn’t work that way,” Mother Marta said. “Now quit your dithering and kill that ghoul.”

With that, she vanished into a wall again. Roland grumbled and set out in the direction the ghoul had run. He found it quickly enough, spotting it in time to avoid its ambush. In a fearsome battle, the pair rolled and grappled, Roland stabbing with the dagger, the ghoul slashing with its fangs and claws. As the silver-bladed weapon bit into the monster, Roland felt it possible to acquire the creature’s knowledge by eating some of it, and that, if he chose, he gnaw off part of the undead horror while fighting. Roland ignored these options, and finally rammed the blade deep into the ghoul’s black, ichor-filled heart.

Mother Marta reappeared again. “Well done, paladin. Well done. Now rest, and let me minister to your wounds.”

More time passed. Mother Marta’s healing arts restored Roland’s strength and healed his elbow, but not without leaving behind some ruddy scar tissue. She explained that three ogres, led by Stanus, attacked Rest-of-Kings several days ago. Most of the nuns were killed when the ogres set fire to the upper floors, which partially collapsed.

“One ogre remains, Roland. You must slay her, but the climb up the parapet will be difficult. She has locked the trapdoor leading up to the parapet from the ruined upper floor.”

Roland produced the key ring. “Will these help?”

“Indeed they will.”

Several minutes later, halberd in hand, Roland was gingerly making his way through the ruined, rubble-choked upper floors. The locked trapdoor was in view. He reached out to grab a bit of cornice, hoping to steady his way along a narrow ledge overhanging a drop of several yards. The cornice crumbled loose under his weight, pulling down a section of the ceiling as well. Roland fell, and a large slab of rock landed on him. As he looked up through the hole in the ceiling, a monstrous hag with nails like iron spikes crawled into view and started to descend spider-like toward Roland.

“Time to lick your brains from the bowl of your skull!”

The ogress pounced, and Roland roared with the effort of hefting the stone slab. It toppled partially onto the ogress. Roland swung his halberd, striking a powerful blow. The ogress hissed in rage and fear, scrambling up the wall toward the hole in the ceiling. Roland hurled his halberd like a spear, but to no effect. The monster vanished from sight, and Roland climbed up after it, but not with its speed and nimbleness. As he emerged through the hole leading up to the parapet, a rock slammed into his hip.

Roland rolled to his feet. The ogress stood on the other side of the tower’s upper spaces, a large rock in each clawed hand. Roland charged. The ogress through the first rock, which Roland blocked with his gauntleted hand. He heard and felt hand bones crack. He swung his good fist at the monster, but it hoisted him overhead. Just as it threw him off the tower’s roof, Roland rammed a brutal jab into the monster’s forehead. Bone collapsed. Eyes bulged and bled. Roland tumbled through the air, catching a projection. His momentum and weight popped his shoulder out of socket. As he blacked out from the pain, he started to fall again.

And then woke with a start in a bed. Mother Marta sat nearby.

“Rest, Roland,” she said. “Fortunately, I was able to use the periapt’s power to help catch you before you fell to your death. Well done, young man. Well done.”

December 28th, 2014  in Man-Day Adventures No Comments »

Fenestra of Baleful Ectypes

The dreaded Fenestra of Baleful Ectypes, a cursed magical mirror, hangs on a mildewed wall in Myrrha, a ruined villa once home to an exceedingly wicked senator named Woodruff. A man of perverse tastes, Woodruff’s reputation for cruelty has only grown since his death. His slaves were the most frequent targets of his vile appetites.

Of these slaves, the most famous is Cloe, who Woodruff forced Chloe into being his mistress after cutting off one of her ears. As revenge against Woodruff, Cloe baked a birthday cake containing extract of boiled and reduced oleander leaves, which are extremely poisonous. Her plan backfired.

Only Woodruff’s wife and two daughters ate the cake, and all died from the poison. Woodruff had Cloe hanged by her wrists from the vaulted ceiling in the front hall so that she could see her slow, torturous death in the mirror. Shortly after Cloe finally expired, Woodruff’s other slaves revolted and killed their cruel master before escaping into the hills around Myrrha. The Fenestra functions much like a crystal ball, allowing its user to see distant places and even times. Doing so is not without risk, for the mirror’s magic taps into Vioo, that barren, dark realm that exists on the other side of mirrors and mirror-like surfaces.

For Dungeon World:

When you use the Fenestra of Baleful Ectypes, roll+INT. *On a 10+, choose 3. *On a 7–9, choose 2.

* You see what is transpiring at the place you want to view.
* You see what is transpiring at the time you want to view.
* You do not take -1 forward the next time you use the mirror.
* You do not attract unwelcome attention.

For Swords & Wizardry:

The Fenestra of Baleful Ectypes functions much like a crystal ball. Its user may see what is transpiring in whatever location he desires to see, over a considerable distance and even through the veils of time. When a user taps into the scrying powers of the mirror, he must make a saving throw. Failure means the mirror’s magic ripples uncontrolled, and the user attracts the attention of one or more of Vioo’s wicked denizens. Certain spells and other precautions may be used to prevent being seen through the Fenestra. Usable by: Magic-Users.

December 26th, 2014  in RPG No Comments »

Grammimond

Few villains inspire as many lurid tales as Chernubles of Munigre, which is odd considering how little is known of him. Munigre cannot be found on any reliable map. Chernubles’s crimes are so many and varied as to be contradictory. Piecing together commonalities, we learn that Chernubles possessed the strength of four beasts of burden and that he never cut his hair. Consequently, his black hair reached the ground, sweeping it behind him as he walked.

Munigre’s descriptions seem even more improbable. This benighted realm is said to be a desert waste. There the Sun never shines, and no rain ever falls. No plants grow there. The rocks that litter Munigre’s barren terrain are all completely black. Given these details, and assuming their accuracy, many claim Chernubles was a devil rather than a man.

Numerous tales about Chernubles also speak of Grammimond, the villain’s magic sword. Several enchanted blades have been called Grammimond, but perhaps a black, gold, and silver scimitar has the strongest claim. None who have seen this Grammimond in action have reason to doubt its power. Most who have wielded this Grammimond have regretted their association with this sword.

When you attack with Grammimond in melee, roll+STR. *On a 10+, you deal your damage +1d6 to the enemy and avoid their attack. At your option, you may choose to do +1d8 damage but an ally is exposed to the enemy’s attack or has something unfortunate happen to them. *On a 7–9, you deal your damage +1d4 to the enemy, but choose 1.

* The enemy makes an attack against you.
* The enemy makes an attack against an ally.
* Something unfortunate happens to a nearby ally.

December 8th, 2014  in RPG No Comments »

They Who Want In

The provenance of They Who Want In, a cursed painting depicting a slightly grotesque doll and an expressionless boy standing in front of a door composed largely of glass panes, has long been a mystery. Unconfirmed reports say an obscure artist named Gaspar Laurence painted the image. Laurence can neither confirm nor deny these reports as he died after a massive stroke while an inmate at the Binkley Asylum for the Criminally Insane in the late summer of 1963. The painting hung for a time in the swank apartments of actor Bradford Hughes. Hollywood legend has long claimed the painting inspired Rod Serling to create Night Gallery, which aired for four years on NBC. (“The Cemetary”, part of Night Gallery‘s pilot, featured a frightening painting that possesses characteristics attributed to They Who Want In.)

When Hughes committed suicide in 1976, the painting appears to have vanished. It was next reported in the possession of Mr. and Mrs. Harold Feldman, who claim to have found the painting in an antique shop while on vacation. They purchased the painting as a gift for Alice Feldman, their ten-year-old daughter. Little needs to be said about the horrific murder-suicide at the hands of Mr. Feldman followed by the arson that destroyed most of the Feldman home but somehow left the painting intact. The case is quite famous, and it has been thoroughly documented by no fewer than three authors.

Resourceful investigators may discover that Gaspar Laurence was born Gaspar Peruggio. He emigrated to the United States from Florence, Italy, shortly after World War II, changing his name in order to break from his past as a Nazi collaborator and dealer in stolen art and artifacts. He was also an avid occultist who had extensively studied several tomes related to the Mythos. In one of these tomes, Laurence learned dark secrets that enabled him to paint portals leading to and from realms of madness and despair. They Who Want In is one such painting.

At night, the painting draws on the psychic energies of those in its proximity. It stores some of this energy, and uses the remainder to create potentially terrifying effects. Anyone who spends more than an hour near the painting must make a POW versus POW struggle. The painting has 18 POW. If the victim fails this struggle, he loses 1 point of POW, which the painting converts to a Magic Point, and the victim must then make a SAN roll. SAN loss from this effect equals 0/1d4.

When the painting has accumulated 3 Magic Points, its deadlier effects begin to manifest. Those in proximity to the risk POW loss every 2d6 hours. The painting also spends Magic Points, always at night. The painting’s powers and their Magic Point cost are summarized below.

1 Magic Point: Cause a figure in the painting to move. Anyone viewing this risks 1/1d4 points of SAN.

2 Magic Points: Cause several figures in the painting to move and make noise. Anyone experience this risks 1/1d6 SAN.

3 Magic Points: Cause either the doll or the boy to leave the painting and assume corporeal form. Anyone encountering either creature risks 0/1d4 SAN, unless they know the creature’s origin, in which case they risk 1/1d6 SAN. Treat either creature as a ghoul. If killed, the figure reappears in the painting.

3 Magic Points: Become immune to fire and slashing damage until the sun rises.

5 Magic Points: Teleport itself to a different location. Stories say that at least once the painting has used this power to return to torment its owner after the owner had tossed the painting in a river.

December 3rd, 2014  in RPG No Comments »

Cro’s Breath of Life

This month, I want to try to write and post a series based on the theme of sinister gifts. Speaking of gifts, I couldn’t help jumping into Erik Tenkar’s big bag of OSR goodies. Spes Magna Games is contributing the following gifts to the 12 Days of OSR Christmas:

1. A complete collection of all Spes Magna Games OSR OGL PDFs.

2. Dead-tree copies of A Guide to the Astral Plane and The Glory of Rome Campaign Sourcebook, two classic TSR tomes.

And now, the first of this month’s thematic posts.

When speaking of the Havoc, those four Deities of Chaos, few dispute seriously that Cro† is most to be feared (as well as trusted, Cro’s faithful would add). Those who serve Cro well may receive special gifts from the Lord of Contraries. Perhaps the most dreaded (and desired) of these gifts is the Breath of Life. When you breathe into the lungs of someone you’ve recently killed, they return to life. Roll+CHA. *On a 10+, choose 2. *On 7-9, choose 1.

* Your victim doesn’t remember the minutes leading up to their death.
* Your victim doesn’t return to life immediately.
* Your victim’s personality isn’t damaged.

Cro, the God of Truth, Chaos, and Opposites. Cro always speaks the truth. Cro always lies. Cro stands firm against what is evil. Cro revels in evil, his hands stained with innocent blood. Cro is all things, and all things are Cro.

December 1st, 2014  in RPG No Comments »