Adventure Log: A Bard’s Tale, Volume 4

Hi everyone, I bring another installation of A Bard’s Tale, thank’s to Aldo for getting back on the horse and spinning some more of his tale!

Halfling_Bard

 A Bard’s Tale 

By Aldo Hardbottle

The Goblin Lair

Meepo lead us into the goblin lair,

hoping a dragon to ensnare.

Goblins must have known we were on our way,

for the realm was well defended to keep us at bay.

We trudged past many a defended wall,

until we pushed into their killing hall.

One miss-step and an arrow came,

And these goblin archers had deadly aim.

Starfall threw out a cloud of fog,

and obscured our crossing with the thick smog.

We ran across the hall to a door,

and I picked the lock, then hit the floor.

We found ourselves the goblin prison,

inside a gnomish cleric had risen.

Erkey Timbers, he introduced himself,

then grabbed his holy symbol from the shelf.

In the goblin prison, Starfall freed a Kobold or two,

I peeked out the door and told them what they must do.

The Kobolds ran as fast as they could,

and I followed fast as I should.

We made it across the killing hall,

but the goblins noticed, and I knew the group might fall.

Aman the Senseless charged in a rage,

his best hope now was to awaken in a cage.

Starfall threw out another cloud of fog,

the rest of the party across the hall would slog.

They left poor Aman to his fate,

but that dreadful mistress would have to wait.

Cursing myself for a dimwitted dolt

up toward Aman, I had to bolt.

The fool wanted to die, but I could not let him be,

so I cast a powerful spell, and prayed we’d be free.

Then a thundering crack and I landed on the floor,

and all around me the walls were covered in gore.

Aman still stood and I rushed him back,

while behind us 12 goblins fell to a thunderous crack.

We walked back to Kobold land,

poor Aman was barely able to stand.

We sat down to rest for the night,

and I merely wondered how better to fight.

The next morning we awoke battered and sore.

It seemed like our quest was turning into a war,

but we gathered our strength and ventured on.

If we couldn’t win by brains we certainly had brawn.

The goblin lair was nearly deserted.

Our attention from main hall was diverted

by a noise of a loud and angry beast.

Was this the dragon to be released?

When we opened the door there it stood,

Meepo went to calm the dragon if he could.

Calcryx was a like the furry of a winter storm,

he bit Meepo, which was outside the norm.

“We must put it down to carry it back,”

and with that we started our attack.

“We cannot kill it,” Starfall cried.

“It won’t matter if we’re dead,” Millbee replied

After a vicious fight the beast was nearly down,

Millbee fired an arrow into Calcryx’s crown.

We all stood in shock, as the dragon died,

Though I’d be a liar if I said my heart didn’t lift at the dracocide.

Meepo screamed and stabbed the wizard,

he would take vengeance for his oversized lizard.

Chaos broke out as we pulled Meepo from Millbee,

Where this ended none could see.

We knocked out the Kobold and tied him up.

Could this be the point where the party broke up?

Starfall was furious that we’d betrayed Meepo and his kind,

I fired back that the druid was blind.

Blind to the issues a Kobold fortress would cause.

We simply couldn’t know what their intention was.

After the shock and the debate,

We decided the wizard’s and the kobold’s fate.

Meepo must be killed or he’d tell of our treachery,

Millbee would be forgiven, though he made us a new enemy.

We could not go back to Kobold land,

so we continued forward to the adventure at hand.

We must seek out Belak and his twilight grove.

Curiosity was the force that drove

me onward, though I wanted to flee,

We’d come this far, the dark master I must see.

 

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Aincrad Expands: Valley of the Honored Dead

Hi Everyone! I am in the process of beginning a play by post adventure with some friends on this website http://gamersplane.com/. I have been interested in trying out this way of playing for a while, and after chatting to some friends this seemed like the perfect chance.

I also saw this as a chance to expand the lore and notes I have for my current campaign realm Aincrad, as it just made sense to put this new group in the same world. Important to note all members of this new group are not involved in my Sunless Citadel campaign. This could lead to some fun situations where rumors of each other’s exploits might reach each group :). 

Here is the second handout I am giving this new group, filling them in on the adventure background. This background expands a bit on the culture of Aincrad as well as adding a few features and goings on to the campaign world.

For those of you who are new readers, here is a link to my other article, which contains my original handout on my campaign world: https://theroomfillswithwater.wordpress.com/2015/09/24/45/.

Aincrad Expanded

In the centuries of darkness brought on by the Death’s Head cult, the people of the Plains of Plenty loss touch with much of the outside world. As hostilities intensified, archives and ancient buildings were plundered, destroyed, and lost, leading to much of the region’s history disappearing into legend. Only the Blackmountain clan, with their rigid defense of ancestral lands managed to preserve their historical heritage.

A lack of concrete history and cultural heritage has long been a point of shame to the non-dwarven members of Aincrad. A point which the less sympathetic Blackmountain dwarves are not above using to elevate their own self image and self importance. With the central lands of Aincrad nearly fully under the control of Aincrad, the people of the nation have begun to explore and settle outward. This has led to interactions with new groups of people, but also rediscovery of some lands of the ancients.

Recently the gnome explorer Balberous Balducci, along with his party of friends, has made a tremendous discovery.

gnome explorer

Hidden in the foothills of the mountain chain known as Arawn’s Teeth, Balberous found the fabled Valley of the Honored Dead. For centuries tales had been shared of the Valley of the Honored Dead. It was rumored to be the final resting place for beings both wealthy, powerful, and valiant. The foothills of these region were honey combed as the human clans of ancient times tunneled, building burial chambers for their honored dead. These tombs ranged from humble, but adequate tombs, to sprawling egotistical monuments to the being’s remains they now housed. While many of the barrows’ residents were beings of good, rumor has it that servants of evil that managed to gain power also were buried here, only in secret by their followers. A few whispered tales even speak of people punished for evil deeds, by being buried alive, cursed to a existence of undeath.

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Needless to say untold riches, but also the history of the ancients, rests within the foothills of these mountains. Balberous, not a historian, nor a particularly greedy being, took a modest sum of loot, and then took word to the capitol of Pathos. In the time since, dozens, if not hundreds of separate parties and interests have descended on the valley, some to great success, others unable survive long enough to achieve anything. Legend tells of artifacts of great power hidden in these foothills, but the ancients have left wicked traps, terrible guardians. In addition, the various camps in the region have little trust for each other and often prey on one another, leaving them weak and vulnerable to raids from humanoids descending from Arawn’s Teeth.

The Valley of the Honored Dead has barely been entered, as the deeper into the valley a traveler ventures, the older the tombs get. The older a tomb is the better hidden,  more intricate, and/or more powerfully guarded. Current expeditions have largely restrained themselves to the study and explorations of the newest tombs, still at least a thousand years old. This allows some measure of safety, at least from the worse protective measures of the ancients.

It is to this region of unrest, but also hope and great fortune that you have arrived. Your reasons are your own, perhaps you seek ancient knowledge, or the wealth of the ancients. Maybe you see the rabid looting of a region of such importance as a travesty, or an opportunity. Whatever your motivation, one thing is certain, you will need to form friends, for loners will not survive long in this chaotic turmoil. Welcome to the Valley of the Honored Dead…

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Hopefully that intrigued some people. I would love to hear some reactions or suggestions.

DMing Tip: Music

Hello everyone! Today I am going to discuss a DM tip I have only recently become an advocate for, the use of music. Audio aspects of play are often overlooked, but I have found they are a great tool to setting moods and getting my players focused.

While I primarily focus on DMs using music, a canny player could work in music themed for their character. Maybe you play a specific song after each victory, or perhaps while interacting with NPCs you have a mix you play. Aldo, the Bard in my current campaign and author of the Bards Tale, plays a specific song every time the party rests, representing a music box he possesses and sleeps too. 

Music can really help set the mood and tempo. One of the best uses for music I have found is during scary moments in game. It is extremely tough to get players on edge; however, the right use of verbal description with the right spooky music, and suddenly players  are on the edge of their seats.

To put this in perspective think of a horror video game, like Resident Evil or Silent Hill, the music, while subtle, can really influence your reaction to the game, heightening tension and nervousness.

Another excellent chance to set mood and tempo with music is during combat, the right songs playing in the background can help make combat feel like the intense action in players’ favorite movies. Music can be used to establish other moods, I am always on the look out for new songs to use during urban and wilderness moments.

In my sessions, having music playing has helped get my players further invested in the game. They often regularly comment, “Ohh this music is perfect,” or “Yeah, i’m not really feeling this.”

 

Music can also serve as an audio cue. For example, I only play certain songs during combat, giving my players an additional cue to what is happening in game. A real world example of this can be heard in Pokemon game, the moment the battle music starts playing players know they are in a battle. Other examples are Final Fantasy games, which always have a shift in music when the party enters combat, this helps players transition from exploration, social encounter, ect. to combat.

(How many of you heard the victory music without it even playing?)

I have even purchased a CD of nature sounds when I want to emphasize specific weather or settings, rainstorms and thunder for example has worked well. Without this audio cue its easy to forget that it is raining in game.

Right, so now you are sold that you should try to use music in game, but how?

First, you do not want to use music with words, a few words are ok, but for the most part I stick to only instrumental. Words can be too distracting and pull players away from what I am saying.

This of course means do NOT use popular band music, as your players will start focusing on their favorite hits, rather then the game. These songs are also not very appropriate for fantasy style game.

My go to for music has been soundtracks to certain movies and games. These are valuable for two reasons, first they are a great source of music without words; Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Lord of the Rings are some good ones. My absolute favorite is the original Conan the Barbarian soundtrack. It has amazing combat and exploration music, the Riddle of Steel/Riders of Doom (skip to 2:11 for the combat part) is one of my all time favorites, it gets everyone pumped for combat.

The second reason I like these soundtracks is because many have context already ingrained in the players, from the moments of the game or movie. For example, it would be nearly impossible to find someone who hears the Imperial March from Star Wars, and not picture ranks of stormtroopers and Darth Vader.

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As a DM I use this to my advantage, plugging these recognizable songs in at moments when I want to instill similar feelings to the iconic moments in the movies.

At the suggestion of my assistant DM (Fizzywink’s player), I once used Arabian Nights, from Aladdin, to set the mood for my party moving into a desert nation during a new story arc of my Lost City campaign. It worked really well, getting the party pumped for a new phase of the campaign, and helped serve as a clear transition.

You have to be careful with this, as players may recognize a song that actually conflicts with the mood of the game. For example the Imperial March played while first meeting a good ruler may unintentionally cause them to suspect said leader.

When using music I have found the key to success is variation. I don’t play music directly off a CD, my players will eventually get tired of hearing Harry Potter song after Harry Potter song; however, several different sources of music mixed together gives variation and keeps the music fresh.

I sort my music into 3 generic mixes; Town, Exploration,  and Combat/pump up. These are the various moods I often find I am looking for. If my mixes are 12+ songs then I can just play them and not fiddle too much with my ipod during the game, except when switching settings. The exception to this is when I have a specific song in mind, in which case I make note of it, and actually switch to it when the time comes.

Worth noting is Midnight Syndicate,  which is music made specifically for roleplaying games. The cd Realm of Shadows has been my favorite for setting creepy moods. Whenever I play it for a new group they always comment on how much they like it. There are a number of CDs by Midnight Syndicate, and they are definitely worth considering.

cd_cover_realm_of_shadows

If you are a little unsure on using music, give it a try, youtube has some great play lists, which are free. The library is also a great free source to try for various soundtracks and spooky Halloween music.

Hopefully this has been an interesting/ useful discussion. I would love to hear if any of you play in games which use music, or if you have specific songs/ CDs you like.

Random Encounter: Darkmantles

Hello everyone, I am bringing back a segment that hasn’t been done for a while, the Random Encounter! This time I will discuss one of my favorite monsters to use the Darkmantle.

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Darkmantles are a weird cavern dwelling animal, essentially a cave squid. They lurk on the ceilings of caves, blending in with the stalactites, until unsuspecting prey passes by. Then they create a Darkness Aura, while using their Echolocation  to pounce on their prey. Once latched on they squeeze and constrict until their victim is slain. They are well adapted to their subterranean dwellings, able to glide slowing in the air (somehow).

Darkmantles are one of my favorite monsters for a few reasons.

First, they are a low level creature that gives a very different set of tactical challenges from common low level creatures PCs face. As an animal, Druids and Rangers can attempt to communicate with them to peacefully pass by. Their unique combination of Darkness Aura and Ecolocation puts the players in a new situation, where they can’t see their enemy, but it can see them. They also add some much needed variety into early game play.

Second, they can easily fit into most campaigns. According to the 5th edition Monster Manual, “Thriving in that dark realm (the Underdark or other caves), they fill an ecological niche similar to bats on the Material Plane.” Basically, they live in in caves, which are scattered throughout D&D.

Third, they are animals, and so they can easily show elements of ecology in your dungeons, making the areas more life-like. Perhaps the party fights a few Darkmantles, at the entrance to a cavern. Deeper in the cave, the Goblins are found feasting on one of the creatures. Suddenly you have created clear connections and logic to the various encounters in your dungeon, making exploring it a much more rewarding experience. (Dungeon ecology is one of my favorite things to think about in my own games)

Finally, they are creepy cave squids, that isolate and freak out a party, without posing too much of a threat to anything but a 1st level character. I love singling out a character, describing to the whole party that they have plunged into darkness. I will then write the targeted player a note explaining that something has latched onto their head, and slimy tentacles are writhing around their neck, attempting to squeeze the life out of them, and that they cannot communicate with the party. Usually said player will curse or stomp, or do some other thing that gets the rest of the party worried, their silence will worry the party even more. This element of the unknown creates a loss of control, creating some great drama, until A) the grappled player escapes or B) the Darkmantle is inevitably slain or flees, but until then it’s great fun!

Do any of you have great Darkmantle stories? Have you used them before in your game? Did you even know this monster existed? (I find they are often overlooked)

Well I hope you enjoyed hearing about one of my favorite monsters, the Darkmantle, perhaps I even gave some DMs a few ideas :).