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Friday, 11 August 2017

Another look at Dragon Warriors

I recently cracked open the beautiful hardback edition of Dragon Warriors produced by James Wallis’s Magnum Opus Press. As a matter of fact there are some copies on sale on DriveThruRPG at the moment – not at all cheap compared to the fiver my Tirikelu rules will set you back, but definitely worth it.

In the preface I talked a bit about my and Oliver Johnson’s thinking when designing the game:
“Our aim was to put something dark, spooky and magical back into fantasy role-playing. Loathing the medieval Disneyland of Dungeons & Dragons, with its theme park taverns, comedy dwarves, and cannon-fodder profusion of monsters, we made Legend as vividly dreamlike as the Middle Ages seem in stories, a place dripping with a European folktale sensibility. The flavor of what fantasy ought to be.

“In Legend, faerie creatures are as amoral as cats and as heartless as children. A goblin in the rafters can spoil a whole night’s sleep, while a troll under the bridge ahead is reason to change your travel plans. And these creatures are rare. Walking into a tavern in Legend and finding an elf at the bar would be like strolling into your real-life local and seeing a polar bear.

“In the world of Dragon Warriors, human emotion is just as strong as magic. The scenario ‘A Box of Old Bones’ makes it clear that the miracles associated with holy relics are sufficiently rare and vaguely manifested that a fake relic can go unnoticed for years, getting by on the strength of its placebo effect and the willingness of clergy and believers to collude in seeing evidence where they want to see it. Our rule was never to evoke magic if a non-supernatural plot point would do.”
It’s nice to see old work you did getting some love. Normally when that happens people are heaping praise on the land of Legend. The Dragon Warriors rules themselves get overlooked, even by me. (Especially by me, in fact, since I’m forever kicking myself for not listening to Oliver when he said we should dispense with the polyhedral dice.) But then I came across this in-depth review by Charles Akins in which it’s the DW system as much as the world that grabs him. If I ever get around to finishing Jewelspider for publication it’s going to have a new D6-driven system, but Mr Akins’ comments still give me a warm glow inside. As does this mini-review of the combat mechanics on DarkAgeOf RollPlayGame:

And if you should feel like a return to the lands of Legend, Serpent King Games have made the core Dragon Warriors rulebook available free as a PDF until the end of this month. That's better than a dragon spitting in your eye. (Although I should add that in all my time in Legend, the nearest we've yet got to a dragon is hearing a slithering in a ditch in the forest one time. Gotta love that low fantasy.)

Friday, 4 August 2017

Practising my art upon the gnoles

I can't imagine what possessed me to perpetrate this act of creative vandalism. Converting Lord Dunsany's gnoles to Runequest stats -- by Mung and his Beast, the very idea! My only excuse then is that I was young (it was the early 1980s), I was editing the Rune Rites column in White Dwarf, and there was a constant demand for new material -- especially monsters because RQ's hit location rules makes it pretty hard to improvise them as you go. But even so, what a wretched crime against a great fantasy author. And I really have no excuse for publishing it now except as a warning to others... Do me a favour; please at least read the story (and preferably pay for it; it's still in copyright) before you spoil it with these stats.


ARMOUR: 2 point skin; sometimes also leather (2 pts.) on body & limbs  
SPELLS: Befuddle; Healing 2; Shimmer 2; Darkwall
SKILLS: Climbing 80%; Listen 80%; Camouflage 90%; Hide in Cover 80%; Move Quietly 90%; Tracking 100% (in forest); Spot Hidden 50%

Travellers who have journeyed through the very deepest and most gloomy forests sometimes claim to have caught a glimpse of large beings moving with uncanny speed and agility through the trees. These are the fabled gnoles.

The reclusive gnoles care nothing for other races and are content to ignore anyone who is not determined to bother them. However, their hidden dwellings are often sought by avaricious and overconfident adventurers who covet their great treasure. Those who survive the other dangers of the forest and succeed in reaching one of the gnole lairs rarely live to brag of it, for the gnoles have several unique abilities that aid them in disposing of intruders...

Gnoles cannot be surprised. They are so aware of the forest and all its signs that they get several hours' warning when anyone is approaching. Moreover, gnoles almost always surprise their opponents; at a distance of 25 metres a gnole is 90% likely to be undiscernable when stationary.

Gnoles cannot see anything further than 20 metres from them (although their hearing is very acute and so they will still be aware of beings beyond this range), but closer than this they have full 360° vision, even through solid objects. They also have Detect Enemies to a range of 20 metres; this ability operates continually at no POW cost.

A gnole lair will contain 4-24 gnoles, all in permanent Mindspeech with one another. In appearance, gnoles are a mottled brown-black. They are slightly larger and more heavily built than an average man, but stand somewhat shorter owing to their stooped posture. They have prehensile hands and feet which enable them to climb rapidly in spite of their bulk.

Friday, 28 July 2017

Tirikelu: role-playing adventures in the empire of the Petal Throne

Corresponding with Professor M.A.R. Barker in the late 1970s and early ‘80s, I was treated to tantalizing glimpses of “the new Empire of the Petal Throne” he was writing. The original EPT had served its purpose for a while, but my group were moving beyond those D&D-inspired mechanics. This was the era of RuneQuest and The Fantasy Trip. We were hungry for a more authentic experience of Tékumel, so we would pass around the Professor’s letters (he was always incredibly generous with his time) and pick endlessly over comments like this:
“We now have one roll to hit, one to get past the shield, one for damage (minus armour) and if one rolls 0 on a 10-sided die on this last roll, then a critical hit for more damage.”
Years passed. It was taking too long. I began constructing my own set of Tékumel rules from the fragmentary description in the Professor’s letters, like reconstructing an unknown animal from just a few bones.

Finally “the new EPT” appeared. That was Swords & Glory. My group switched for a while, but it was the S&G Sourcebook that was getting dog-eared from use. The other book, the rules, appealed less. “HBS Factors” and “Healing G9s” gave the game a tabletop miniatures flavour rather too far from the freewheeling shared stories we were looking for.

And so I returned to my own rules and began to refine them into the game I had hoped Swords & Glory would be. Those rules were to become Tirikélu.

This was the early 1990s, so it seems a little early to talk of an Old School Revival (not a term I like anyway) but the aim was there. Simplify the system so that the rules didn’t keep tripping up the play. Recapture the evocative magic of those early adventures by cross-pollinating EPT spells with ideas from The Book of Ebon Bindings. Make combat quick to use but more than just the endless dice-rolling of, say, RuneQuest.

I had two eureka moments. First, in a treatise by a duellist from the 17th century (quite possibly Sir William Hope) I came across the concept of “safe fighting”. His contention was that a moderately skilled fighter could, by concentrating on defence, hold off a more skilled opponent who was dividing his attention between attack and defence. In Tirikélu that became the principle of full- and half-actions. It seemed almost too simple on paper, but in practice we found it allowed for rich tactical choices.

Also I wanted to avoid hit location and lots of book-keeping, but not simply to revert to the amorphous pudding of hit points of D&D. So taking damage above a certain percentage of your hits can reduce your skill, and may require a check to stay conscious, but you don’t need to keep a tally of how much damage each wound caused. It’s all handled at the point the wound is taken.

Nowadays there are quite a few role-playing games where you make a detailed decision about what you’re trying to do, then wade through pages of rules to find your chance of doing it. (GURPS, I’m looking at you.) Tirikélu works best if you keep it abstract till after you roll the dice. “He’s going for a full attack.” “I’m going for a full parry.” Once you resolve that, you’re free to put any narrative interpretation you like on the result. It flows faster that way and, with imaginative players, fights feel agreeably cinematic.

Well, here it is – as complete a version of Tirikélu as you’re ever likely to see. I know, I know; it seems like there’s a new Tékumel RPG every couple of years. Who needs yet another? But many people tell me that Tirikélu is their preferred choice, and you know what? It’s mine too. And it is dedicated, as so much of my work is, to the genius, generosity and humanity of Professor M.A.R. Barker. And on top of that, it’s absolutely free and comes with a whole bunch of scenarios, campaigns and source material.

Get Tirikélu as a free PDF HERE. (Or download the super hi-res 45 Meg version here, which I have also set up so that you can print yourself a copy at cost - no profit to me, and strictly for personal use; no resales, please.) It turns out the rules of the Tekumel Foundation don't allow me to do that set-up work for you even as a non-profit thing. So if you want a print copy you'll have to do it yourself. Sorry about the faff, but it'll only take you about fifteen minutes, and I've written this checklist to guide you through Lulu step by step.

And for even more scenarios, try Michael Cule's introductory adventure "Welcome to Jakalla", Dermot Bolton's espionage tale "Crystal Clear", Bob Dushay's military mission for pre-gen characters "Behind Enemy Lines", and David Bailey's high-stakes scenario "The Society of the Resurgent Octagon".

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Fabled Lands rules, old and new

Recently Jamie and I had a chat about the forthcoming FL book 7 with Paul Gresty (who wrote it) and Richard S Hetley (who is editing it) and an often-asked question arose...

Paul Gresty: “The precise calculation for Defence in Fabled Lands came up on the FL Facebook page about a month ago, and it’s come up again during playtesting of The Serpent King’s Domain as a point of ambiguity. To quote the books: ‘Your Defence score is equal to: your COMBAT score plus your Rank plus the bonus for the armour you’re wearing (if any)’.”

Jamie Thomson: “The question a lot of people ask is whether that COMBAT score includes weapon bonuses – that is, does your Defence score factor in bonuses from weapons and armour, or just from armour?”

Paul: “Right. And with the release of book 7 we’ve got the opportunity to nail this point down. Given the new mechanic for spirit combat, in which Defence is calculated a little differently, it’s important to be specific as regards weapon bonuses.”

Jamie: “If weapon bonuses counted then players could too easily become unbeatable. We should have made it clearer in the rules that you’re supposed to use your innate COMBAT score when calculating Defence.”

Dave Morris: “Also, if the rule worked that way, then logically magic weapons should cost twice as much as magic armour, because they would count for Defence, just like the armour does, and for attack too.”

Jamie: “Right. So to be clear: weapon bonuses do not count towards Defence, ie when calculating your Defence you use your native COMBAT skill without weapon bonuses. Which also makes calculating Defence straightforward, as it doesn’t change every time you switch weapon.”

Paul: “If you use the wrong calculation for Defence, it’s possible for your character to become untouchable in combat. Notably there’s an opponent in FL6, a giant called Big Boy, who is really dangerous in combat, and who inflicts permanent damage to the player’s Stamina with each hit. I’ve found that it’s possible to beat him without taking a scratch - although it seems that the player is supposed to find the clever, non-combat way to beat him.”

Dave: “Jamie and I just assumed players would take it as read that they were to use base COMBAT when calculating Defence. In other words, we didn’t notice there was any ambiguity. It’s no excuse, of course. If there is any point to rules at all, they need to be unambiguous. If an ambiguity makes no difference, the rule itself is superfluous.”

Jamie: “Well, we’re kind of fixing it now. Though in retrospect the system breaks down at these very high levels anyway.”

Richard S Hetley: “I’ve been playtesting all the physical fights in Serpent King’s Domain using the rule that weapon bonuses don’t add to Defence.”

Paul: “I think it’s safe to assume that 95% of players coming to SKD will already own and be very familiar with books 1-6. The new mechanic of spirit combat is intended to provide a few fights in which the player’s combat ability is determined in a much more closed and manageable way. Rank has no bearing on these fights, and only certain items are permissible. The only real advantage that very high-Rank characters get is that they’ll go into these fights with a much higher Stamina. There aren’t so many of these spirit combats in the book, but they should provide a challenge to even very powerful characters.”

Dave: “I’m reminded of spirit combat in Runequest. That was always hair-raising, seeing as if you lost the fight you were annihilated.”

Paul: “Just on the basis of the Dunpala demo, I’ve already had an email about with a rules question asking, ‘Can I use my +8 White Sword in spiritual combat? I think I should be able to, because it was created by a god.’“

Jamie: “Hah! Worth a shot, I guess. What did you tell him?”

Paul: “I gave him a variation of that opening to the Blood Sword books, something like, ‘I’d personally say no – but it’s your book, play it however you want.’” 

Richard: “In spiritual combats in this book, Sanctity or Magic of at least 9 is required to defeat the weakest enemy you’ll face. A starting character in The Serpent King’s Domain can reach that without effort, or can make up the difference by finding high-powered spiritual weapons and armour. But to overcome the strongest enemy you need to have the highest possible Sanctity or Magic and the strongest possible arsenal from this book, as well as a healthy amount of bonus Stamina.”

Jamie: “Which is how it should be. Players want to face a real challenge. The ultimate boss in a book mustn’t be a pushover.”

Richard: “Just as we expect the player to become unbeatable in physical fights by gaming the system, in spiritual fights the player is eventually going to max out stats just the same. On top of which there’s the modifying factor of Lone and Level Sands. Even if this enemy is the strongest in Serpent King’s Domain, what happens if book 8 comes into existence and then the player gets an arsenal even stronger than that here? Now the boss fight in this book becomes easier.”

Jamie: “Maybe some bosses are so tough that you need a multi-book quest before you can face them. We might need to do that to make later books a challenge.”

Dave: “As long as you get the chance to turn away from those fights if you’re not tough enough yet. If you only find out you weren’t ready for the fight by getting killed, that’s a swizz. I know we have resurrection deals but even so you should get plenty of hints beforehand so you can judge the power level needed.”

Jamie: “Or the chance to run away and come back when you’re tough enough.”

Richard: “All this does mean that a player who expects to be invincible but has Sanctity or Magic topped at 5 or 6 is going to be mighty disappointed. I propose telling the fans this before the book is printed and seeing what they say.”

Friday, 14 July 2017

Return of the living dead

Having dusted off the Questworld folders recently - and by the way I do mean folders and I do mean dust, these having languished in the attic for over thirty years - I thought I may as well take a look through and see what still catches my interest.

One of the things that baffled me and my co-writer, Oliver Johnson, was the degree to which Questworld retained Glorantha's bronze age technology, culture, races and even specific deities. After all, if you liked Glorantha then you'd play official RQ supplements, wouldn't you? I had nothing against Glorantha myself, but the setting wasn't what most appealed to me. What I liked about Runequest was the rules, which over the years I've used for games in ancient Sparta, Tekumel, Arthurian adventures, and my own campaign world of Medra.

Anyway, we set about tweaking Questworld to be as different from Glorantha as we could make it. We were lumbered with the Issaries River (though it did get renamed the Ophis a few years later, when we started repurposing the material for our creator-owned Invaders & Ancients project) but we insisted on including something more like traditional fantasy undead. Gloranthan mythology defined undead in terms of their inability to regenerate Power, so we invented a class of "living dead" as well. Vampires were already taken, so ours had to be "vampyrs". Oh well, we could always pass it off as a nod to Polidori.


ARMOUR: As worn
SKILLS: A vampyr has plenty of time in which to develop its skills. Perception and Stealth are particularly favoured: assume an average of 75%-80% for these.

A vampyr depends for its existence on draining blood from the living. The symbolic nature of the act provides potent magic; as the victim's life ebbs, the vampyr draws the vital essence into itself. The blood must drain directly from the victim to the vampyr. Blood stored in flasks would be useless, its magic destroyed.

If the vampyr goes without blood its CON begins to decrease. This represents the sapping of the creature’s energy. After seven full days without blood the vampyr loses 1 point of CON. Five days later another CON point is lost, then further points at four day intervals. For each CON point after the first, the vampyr also loses 1 point of STR. Moreover, after the first couple of weeks without blood the vampyr begins to show signs of ageing. When CON reaches 1 the vampyr's STR sinks to 3. It remains in this state for one month, then becomes truly dead – though even then the soul is not released unless the corpse's head is severed. The vampyr can stay in its coffin in order to slow the rate of CON loss, as each night that it rises is equivalent to two nights of remaining dormant.

The maximum amount of blood that a vampyr can drain in a single night is one pint. Usually it revisits a victim on successive nights, and the victim loses CON and STR as shown on the Blood Loss Table. Each point of CON that the victim loses adds one point to the vampyr's CON. When the vampyr’s CON reaches species maximum, further points go towards healing any damage the vampyr has taken, at the rate of each CON point lost to the victim giving the vampyr the equivalent of a healing 6 spell. This is the only way a vampyr can heal itself.

Vampyrs are unaffected by non-Runic weapons unless impaled by the weapon – and even then only half the normal impalement damage is taken. Bladesharp or other magic cast on a weapon will damage the vampyr, of course, as will Runic metal weapons.

A vampyr does not collapse when it has taken damage equal to its hit points - it must be hacked apart until it cannot fight, and in this respect is treated as a zombie. If for any reason the head of a fallen vampyr is not removed then the creature can be healed (by a charmed servant, for instance) by causing blood to gush from a living victim onto the vampyr's body.

Vampyrs have the power to charm. This requires the vampyr to talk to the intended victim for at least thirty seconds, and they must be within ten metres of one another. Charm cannot be used while the vampyr and victim are in combat, it must be normal conversation. A charmed victim allows the vampyr to do whatever it chooses with him/her.

It is widely believed that vampyrs can accomplish transformation into bat, wolf and mist form, but this is not definitely known. A vampyr certainly cannot make such a transformation in full view of its victims. When not observed, a vampyr can find its way up vertical walls and through locked doors exactly as though it does possess shapechanging abilities, but as it can never be seen to do so the exact truth of the matter is irrelevant.

A vampyr can be destroyed by driving a stake (in fact any sharp instrument) through its heart and then cutting off its head. The stake interrupts the flow of magical energy that sustains the vampyr, causing it to become in all respects like a normal corpse. If the stake is later removed the vampyr comes back to "life", because the soul has remained latent within the corpse. The action of severing the head frees the soul to go to the spirit plane, irreversibly ending the vampyr's living death.

Being caught in sunlight immediately removes the vampyr's power to charm and its invulnerability to bronze weapons. Also, the vampyr loses 2 points of CON every round it remains in sunlight until CON reaches zero and it ceases to function. Removing the head at this point will destroy the vampyr. If a vampyr which is already dormant in its coffin is exposed to sunlight then it suffers no CON loss but is held trapped, unable to rise, the until the sun sets.

Vampyrs cannot cross pure running water except by bridge, boat, or on the back of someone else. Swamp and marshland have no effect on them.

Vampyrs can be driven back with the Life Rune. If someone tied to this Rune presents it strongly before them, the vampyr is forced to retreat so as to keep at least four metres between itself and the Rune. This only applies as long as the Life Rune cultist concentrates fully on the power of the Rune. If  backed into a corner so that it cannot circle round the Life Rune, the vampyr will go berserk (as a fanaticism spell) and attempt to escape. The Death Rune has no effect on vampyrs. Many of them worship it in some form, as a matter of fact.

Anyone who dies from a vampyr's bite will become a vampyr or a demi-vampyr. A true vampyr is created when the vampyr allows the victim to drink its own blood at the same moment that it drains the victim's This costs the vampyr 1d4 points of characteristic POW (regainable through POW increase rolls) and ensures that the victim will arise three nights after his/her death as a new vampyr. The new vampyr loves its creator and is therefore (usually) totally loyal. SIZ, INT and POW remain the same as the vampyr previously possessed in life, DEX and CHA both increase by 1d6, CON increases to species maximum, and STR increases to 1½ times species maximum.

If the vampyr does not sacrifice POW its victim will arise as a mere demi-vampyr. Such a creature has characteristics as follows:

So the demi-vampyr gets the increased physical power of a normal vampyr, but its DEX and POW are reduced and it is left with. animal-like intelligence. It drains blood just like a vampyr, but cannot charm and takes normal damage from bronze weapons, and so must resort to random attacks and waylaying travellers on desolate country roads. Enough of its intellect remains for it to utter phrases and pleas for help in order to lure victims, but the demi-vampyr has no real understanding of anything it says. If meleed, the demi-vampyr will battle ferociously (usually with its bare hands or a simple club, and with a maximum fighting skill of DEXx5%) until it sees a chance to escape. A demi-vampyr will obey simple instructions from the vampyr that created it, but has no loyalty and will flee if endangered. Demi-vampyrs have all the vulnerabilities of a true vampyr.


Nightshades are living dead creatures that are sometimes encountered in woods. They are met only when there is a fog, as they have the magical ability to create shadowy images from fog. This ability is used to confuse and intimidate an enemy by making it seem as though there are many more Nightshades lurking among the trees.

Nightshades are translucent figures drifting forward through the mists. They often seem to be screaming at their victims, but no sound can be heard. Nightshades are protected at all times by a shimmer 3 spell (not included in the Defence above). Bronze weapons pass harmlessly through their insubstantial bodies.

Weapons of Runic metal, or which are under the effect of a spell such as bladesharp, will affect a Nightshade, but only to the extent of doing the basic weapon damage. For example: a fighter with a bronze greatsword slices at a Nightshade. Seeing that he has done it no damage, the fighter now applies a bladesharp 1 to his weapon. This is enough to give the sword power to affect a Nightshade, and the fighter's next strike does the weapon's normal damage (2d8 in this case), without bonuses for the bladesharp spell or the fighter's STR and SIZ.

When a Nightshade touches its opponent there is a tremendous discharge of magical energy. The opponent must match his SIZ+DEX vs twice the damage rolled for the creature's touch (see Knockbacks, Runequest Appendix C). If the touch did 14 points, for instance, and the opponent had SIZ+DEX equal to 24, this would give a 70% chance of a knockback.

If the body of someone slain by a Nightshade is left in the woods where he died then he will become a Nightshade himself once the body has rotted (in 3-18 months).



*The wight's touch is not a strike; it does no direct damage, but its effect reaches through armour for a POW vs POW attack. If the wight wins, the character suffers 1d3 damage (like a disruption spell) in that body area and loses 1d4 points of STR. When the character's STR reaches 0 he will fall to the ground paralyzed. Even before this, it is likely that he will have become too weak to heft his weapon. Wights usually transform their defeated victims into zombies, but if they are thwarted from doing so then their victim's lost STR recovers at the rate of 1 point an hour.

ARMOUR: None usually; can wear any
SPELLS: Battle magic to INT limit; 1d12 points of Rune magic
SKILLS: Detect Life 80%; Detect Magic 80% (as the spells, but at no POW cost)

Wights are the spirits of the priest-sorcerers of an ancient empire. They inhabit their original bodies (transformed and sustained by their sorcery) and lurk in burial mounds. They are sallowish and dessicated, and their sunken eyes gleam with a preternatural light, but apart from this they look much like a normal man. Wights dress in the rotting, dusty tabards of a bygone age and rarely trouble to wear armour because they are unaffected by bronze weapons. A bronze weapon striking a wight will, moreover, take 5d6 damage due to instantaneous corrosion.

Wights are capable of various exotic Rune magics, including the ability to summon up dense, freezing fog from the moors to lead travelers astray. Wights will travel abroad in such fog, or at night, but abhor the direct light of the sun. Their Rune spells, once used, recover at the rate of 1 point a day, at moonrise. Wights are living dead (not undead) and therefore recover POW normally.

The wight picture at the top is by Ryan Barger and you can buy print copies of it here.

Friday, 7 July 2017

Guns in space

I watched Star Trek Beyond last Christmas. It would have been two hours of my life that I’d never get back, but luckily I gave up after twenty-five minutes when it became clear the entire movie was one long videogame cut-scene. All I can say in its defence is that it made Into Darkness seem, in retrospect, not quite so bloody awful.

There was one interesting moment. The Enterprise was attacked by a swarm of little ships. There are spoilers ahoy, by the way, though nothing as dire as actually having to watch the movie itself.

Still here? Okay, those little ships take the Enterprise apart – quickly and completely cut it to ribbons. The shields do nothing to stop them and the phasers seem unable to fire rapid bursts, so that’s that. It would have been more effective if the film makers had done something to set it up. As it was, the scene comes across as the plot development that must happen so that the already-stated theme of the movie (“the major asset of the ship is its crew”) can be slotted into place Ikea-style.

Still, it’s something I’ve wondered about before. Tasked with building a fleet for space combat, would you really build huge battleships? Wouldn’t lots of smaller fighters be more effective?

I’m thinking of Lanchester’s Laws, which establish that when using ranged weapons, the attack strength of a force is proportional to the square of the number of units. Consider two starships against one. Each starship can take two photon torpedo strikes. After one exchange of fire, the solitary vessel is destroyed and the two opponents have lost a quarter of their combined strength.

But it might not be that simple. Maybe the effectiveness of shields goes up non-linearly with the energy put into them. Maybe you can’t build a warp drive or an antimatter containment field smaller than a certain size. We know that the Enterprise’s phasers can cut through a planet’s crust – at least, I think I remember seeing that in one episode. It’s hard to imagine a few hundred TIE fighters pulling that off.

Apparently at the end of the movie the Enterprise gets rebuilt. But why? Having seen that one big vessel is no match for a swarm of smaller ships, does it make sense to revert to the old pattern? That’s reinforcing failure. On the other hand, the scriptwriters will have a hand-wavy plan for getting around it so that sequels can timidly go where Star Wars has gone so many times before.

Friday, 30 June 2017

Portraits of Peril

We don’t usually do news around here, unless it’s Brexit or Trump or other End Times scenarios, but there was some recent discussion in the comments about Scholastic UK’s re-release of the Fighting Fantasy gamebook series, and I kind of like the covers, so why not?

What’s good about them, first of all, is that they’re simple. These covers will have taken a fraction of the time of a full painting like Martin McKenna’s (very striking) image for Bloodbones. So they’ll be cheap, and that’s smart thinking.

On the other hand, cheap would be counter-productive if it looked cheap. Try the cover below that was proposed to me for Down Among the Dead Men by a mainstream publisher. ‘But… but…’ I said. And, when my brain regained control of my mouth: ‘It’s about pirates, not cowboys. And also it’s not a funny story for eight-year-olds.’

Thus it is that I know how utterly slapdash and dire a ‘professional’ attempt at a cover can be. By contrast, these FF covers are bold, modern and eye-catching. I can imagine them convincing today’s eleven-year-olds to give gamebooks a try.

But will those kids want to roll dice and wrangle their way through all that character-sheet arithmetic? Will the puzzle- and plot-driven adventures hold up? Will the creaky purple prose of thirty-five years past still compel attention in a videogame era? I don’t know. I just think they look pretty.

Friday, 16 June 2017

"Sweet is Revenge" (a Questworld scenario)

A real OSR type scenario this time. This was one of the adventures that Oliver Johnson and I wrote for Game Workshop's Questworld pack in the early '80s. The idea was for a non-Gloranthan world for RuneQuest that would be parcelled out among various publishers, each getting their own continent to play with. Oliver and I were given a detailed map that came with some fragmentary history already in place, which we quickly wrangled into a form that suited us better. I remember being nonplussed as to why all the traditional RQ gods were transplanted to Questworld. What's the point of a new setting if it has much the same flavour as the old? Still, it was a job. (Well, in principle it was - we were never actually paid.)

The British Questworld pack never happened because Chaosium, who owned the RQ licence, decided not to renew their UK distribution deal with Games Workshop. Eventually Oliver and I found out, but only when we delivered the finished Questworld books to GW. Oops, as they no doubt said. Our own comment on the matter is less printable.

So there we were with a complete world sourcebook, referee's book, creatures book, and a starter campaign comprising seven scenarios. Later, while working on Dragon Warriors, we took another look at our Questworld book, chucked out the RQ gods - and, of course, the damned ducks - and started to repurpose it as Invaders & Ancients. The scenarios for that would have been less dungeony, seeing as we were in the driving seat now, but sadly that never came to pass. You can get a taste of it from the scenario "More Precious Than Gold", though, as well as our unfinished novel The Land Below The Sunset.

Some quick trivia: Oliver and I were in a hurry to get the scenario ready for playtesting one evening, and whatever circuit in our brains came up with fantasy names had burned out. Needing instant inspiration, Oliver seized the carton of orange juice on the table and declared this to be a story of the Fujusei clan. Fruit juice, you see. We had probably been to a Kurosawa season at the Electric, because Fujusei's rival became Lord Genmoro. We wouldn't have kept those names in the Invaders & Ancients book - well, hopefully not - so I've altered them in this version.

The scenario was originally called "A Tale of Treachery" but in the circumstances I couldn't resist the Byron quotation. Lord Calomel learns the truth of that one in quite a grisly manner.

Quick overview:
For one reason or another the characters find themselves in Lamentation, on the fringe of the great Miasmos swamp, with time on their hands. Rumours around town suggest there could be some action in Cinderbrake village, some fifteen miles to the north.

The village has troubles, all right. The wife of the late Baron Missal, rightful lord of Cinderbrake, has returned to wreak terrible revenge on those responsible for her husband’s murder fully thirty years past. The village headman quakes in his boots, for he it was who betrayed Lord Missal to his enemies. He presents himself to the characters as a good man, concerned for his village now that a mad woman has come to threaten it, and tries to convince them to help him. He intends to do away with them once they’ve rid him of mad Lady Missal.

This adventure gives the characters their first real confrontation with the terrifying powers of Chaos. They have the chance to develop several useful skills and to try their hands at simple strategy (in the form of a “commando” raid on the castle).


This adventure requires the characters to visit the town of Lamentation, which is about five hundred miles upriver from Deliverance. There are a number of ways you can arrange this. The most obvious is to have the characters hired by a merchant to guard the wares he is carrying. This is a common source of income for hired swords around Deliverance. If you want to provide some continuity within your campaign, you could have the characters looked up by Guilder Connla from Brimstone, who has made the perilous journey down the coast in person in order to consolidate some business interests along the Issaries River. (This would only be reasonable, of course, if the characters were on good terms with Connla when they left Brimstone.)

The merchant, whether Connla or not, will offer the characters 200L each for the entire expedition, which should cover about six weeks. The total journey to and from Lamentation will take a month, and the merchant will spend a fortnight in the town making various deals and arranging to have his boat refitted for the return voyage. During this fortnight, the characters’ time is their own; this is when the adventure will take place.

Lamentation is a drab, drear place – a frontier town with a resident population of about 3000, bordering on the great swamp Miasmos. The streets are ankle-deep in mud for the most part, so there are extensive boardwalks for getting around the town. The atmosphere is sleepy, and will soon have seasoned adventurers chafing impatiently. The bleak vista of Miasmos to the east, and the humidity which makes any exertion sweatily unpleasant, seem to drain the townsfolk of life. By night one must sleep under nets because of the swarms of plague-bearing kissgiss  insects and the vipers which sometimes crawl from the fens. Lamentation’s importance is as a staging point—the last port of call for merchants beginning the great river trek eastwards and a haunt of adventurers organizing expeditions into the heart of the swampland.

The town has a number of inns and taverns of varying quality. Since the characters have little to do other than sitting around in bars or putting in some worship at the Lightbringers Temple, there is ample opportunity for them to hear some intriguing rumours. Some of these, such as the tales concerning the Forest of the Serug, may pique their curiosity and provide a springboard for adventures later in the campaign. But remember that the main priority is to get the characters to Cinderbrake, so  make it clear when the rumours about Cinderbrake come up that these are currently the source of greatest interest in Lamentation.


The chance of encountering a rumour or random event is 20% each hour in a tavern, 10% elsewhere. For the first rumour/events, roll using d6, then all subsequent rolls on d20. (This is to ensure the players get to hear the Cinderbrake rumour early on.)

Events marked ● are to be used only once; if they turn up a second time, ignore them and reroll. 

* This may crop up more than once, but unlike most rumours it will always be told by the same person. This drunk has a grudge against Ancients.


At the western edge of the swamp called Miasmos, fifteen miles north of the town of Lamentation on the Issaries river, stands the baronial demesne of Missal. The area has been fraught with civil war since its first settlement by Invaders four hundred years ago. The Ancients, however, had never established themselves here – and with good reason, considering the inhospitable  marshlands to the east.

Two hundred years ago, the twelfth Baron Missal, fretting at the increasingly bureaucratic rule in Deliverance, established Cinderbrake castle right on the edge of the swamps as an outpost against the evil to the east. Despite incursions of Chaos from Miasmos and internecine strife between the Missal clan and their frontier rivals, the castle stood intact until thirty years ago when it was surprised and partially razed by the Calomel clan.

During the savage fighting in the castle after its defences had been mysteriously breached, the eighteenth Lord Missal and his two sons were killed along with the great majority of their retainers. The mortal remains of the defunct Missal clan lie buried at various points around the castle. The lady Amarna, wife of the last Lord of Missal, escaped into the swamps sometime during that terrible night. Thirty years later, and now an old woman, she has returned to the ruined fortress.. She believes that the village headman, Loku, and others of her serfs were responsible for the betrayal of the weaknesses of the castle to the Calomel clan.

Lord Calomel himself, after living in prosperity off the taxes exacted from the merchants passing through the region on the way to the territories of the Ancient Race, disappeared some months ago. His body, in a dismembered state, is to be found in the dungeon area of Cinderbrake castle.

It is now the turn of the perfidious villagers to have vengeance meted out on them by Amarna, whose Rune powers have been increased during her sojourn in Miasmos. Peasants have disappeared from the area to the north of the village with increasing regularity, and the woods around Cinderbrake castle are now considered too dangerous to be entered. The village lunatic, Knorr, claims to have seen strange lights in the woods and around the castle (see NPCs).

Loku is anxious to deal with Amarna with minimum risk to himself, to which end he will offer employment to any adventurers passing through. At the moment he has two bodyguards, Aitch and Bato, as well as the support of the young shaman Holmek, and is as yet unwilling to move away from the village, knowing that the income he now enjoys from the tithes of the former Missal estates cannot be replaced. If anything, he sees Lord Calomel’s murder as an opportunity. Betrayal is in Loku’s nature, and if the characters survive their encounter with Amana he will turn on them the moment he knows the task has been accomplished.

If the characters investigate the village, they will find it a humble collection of ramshackle cottages surrounded by a rough wooden palisade. Some of the cottages have been gutted by fire. Only Loku’s house is made of stone. The villagers will mostly appear cowed and uncommunicative (apart from the lunatic). Loku, however, will appear only too obliging, and will ingratiate himself with the characters in order to gain their co-operation.


The characters enter the village from the south. Assuming they arrive during the day, they will see about twenty peasants working in the fields to the south of the village. On closer inspection, several peasants can be seen to have cudgels in their belts. One of the peasants runs to a stone building in the village as he sees the characters approaching. Loku appears shortly and greets the characters with great courtesy.

By night, armed peasants man the palisade around the village. They are equipped with cudgels and short bows. If there is any disturbance, one of them will alert Loku. As long as the characters approach peaceably, however, they will be admitted
and Loku summoned.

After providing the party with food and drink at his own house, Loku leans forward and speaks in a voice choked with emotion:

“I must apologise for the poor fare which is all this village can offer. We are humble people whose livelihoods have lately been put at risk by an incursion of Chaos from out of the east. Since the baron was slain in an attack on his castle thirty years ago, we have clung to the peripheries of this swamp, eking out a miserable living and deprived of the protection of a liege-lord. Wretched as that existence was, lately our position has become intolerable. A mad woman supplied by some Chaotic source has come out of the east to plague our existence. By night and day villagers have been spirited away, and a foul beast prowls the forest. Iniquitously, this woman has chosen to occupy the ruined castle where our noble lord ruled formerly. Only rid our village of the witch and all our remaining wealth is yours... Aitch, fetch the chest.”

Aitch fetches a battered wooden chest from the next room and gives it to Loku, who unlocks it and opens it ostentatiously. Within are some twenty-five silver coins.

“My friends, this is all we can offer. Slay the evil woman and our treasure and our gratitude our yours.”

If the characters demand the money immediately. Loku will not immediately refuse, but merely point out that should they fail in their intent, the money will be lost to the village and therefore preclude the possibility of hiring other aid.

Usually to be found hanging around the outskirts of the village or surreptitiously following strangers from behind the cottages. He will introduce himself variously as Ogo the carver, Withak the innkeeper or Lord Missal. His real name is Knorr, and he was one of the best of Missal’s men. Knorr was absent from the castle at time of the attack. When he returned he was seized by the Calomel warriors and tortured until mind and body alike were broken. Normally he is docile and cringing, but if any character should try to rough him up he may react with some of his former spirit.

Cinderbrake castle is two miles north of the village. The path is muddy and somewhat overgrown. Every half-hour there is a 35% chance of encountering the bearwalker. Several hundred yards short of the lake, a barely discernible track branches from the main path (Spot Hidden to notice this). This leads to the ancient shrine.

The bearwalker moved into this area some months before Amarna returned to Cinderbrake Castle. He knows nothing about her.

When he first meets the party it will be in his human form: a robust middle-aged man with a large beard, clad in fur robes and carrying a crude spear. He will greet them cheerfully, then suddenly hurl his speedarted spear at the nearest character as he transforms into bear form. Characters on horseback will need to make Riding rolls to stop their mounts from bolting.

If the encounter takes place at night or on an overcast day he can move freely. Otherwise he must keep to the ample shadows of the wood once transformed, as sunlight would return him to human form. If characters realise this and find an open glade, he will not be able to close with them to attack.

The characters find a large, rounded slab of rock in a dark grove. There is a depression in the middle of the slab, with writing scratched into the stone around it. The depression contains damp, matted straw, fragments of a large egg, and a snake’s sloughed-off skin.

This was where Amana hatched her basilisk. The inscription is in Earthtongue and reads:

“In the venom in the stone there is safety from death by stone.”

This refers to the venom of the adders which nest under the slab. Anyone bitten becomes 95% resistant to the basilisk’s gaze. The adders’ poison is Potency 2 blade venom. Every minute spent in the clearing gives each character a 10% chance of being bitten by an adder.

While the characters are examining the shrine, a skeleton in rough robes steps from among the trees. It speaks in a hollow voice, threatening them with dire curses if they do not leave. It carries a staff, but is not powerful and will only fight if attacked. 

A character who makes a Spot Hidden roll while in the clearing will notice a staff in the undergrowth beyond the shrine. The bones of a severed human hand lie by this. The staff is of varnished mahogany with a lumpish, twisted, vaguely organic form. Anyone who touches it will be unable to let go and acquires a Chaotic feature – select randomly from the Chaotic or Reverse Chaos features table. The only way to rid oneself of the staff (and accompanying Chaos affliction) is to use Dispel Magic 8 or to sever the hand holding it.

The characters will probably not find this unless they have good Tracking skills. The lair is just a hollow in a bank, twined with the roots of trees. It contains a number of skulls and decomposing heads – the bearwalker’s kill trophies – and some treasure wrapped in sacking. This latter comprises 38C, 59L, 2W and a jewel (just trade junk, worth maybe 5L).

From the point where the track emerges from the woods, it is a distance of twenty metres across the moat to the far bank. The moat was once spanned by a bridge, but it has been partly demolished and its remaining sections (see map) are separated by distances of about three metres.

To the right, a boat can be seen moored among the reeds on the far bank. To the left, a small island with three poplars in a line.

Amana’s henchman Gorstang spends most of the day in the gate‑house. If he spots the characters crossing the moat (which he will do unless they make an effort at stealth) he will lower the portcullis and then go up to the battlements to snipe at them with his crossbow.

Amarna herself is usually in the tower. For six to eight hours each night, Gorstang goes there himself to sleep; at these times he leaves the portcullis down.

Characters entering the courtyard will see that the walls of the castle are ruined and breached in many places to the north. In front of a shattered tower in this wall there is a tree which has grown unmistakably in the form of the Truth Rune (Y). Under its boughs are a score of simple graves – shallow mounds with rusted weapons lain upon them. The wind in the leaves creates a disquieting sound, as of a multitude muttering at a distance.

These are the graves of Missal’s slaughtered men-at-arms, given only a cursory burial by the treacherous Lord Calomel. Anyone moving close enough to the tree to reach the graves is subject to a POW attack of 14; if overcome, the character falls into a deep sleep in which he will experience the Dream of the Betrayal (see below). After two minutes (twelve rounds) he can be shaken awake. Otherwise he will waken naturally in 2-12 minutes. Any character who tries to damage the tree itself receives a POW attack of 14. which will inflict him with the effect of a Yelmalio geas.

On a Spot Hidden roll, characters will observe a narrow recess in the castle wall to the west (at the point marked S on the map). The roll is at -20% if the character is merely passing through the courtyard without pausing to look around. Close examination of this recess will reveal a small red gem set into the wall at about eye level. If broken out of the wall, the gem is worth 35 L.


Broken double doors stand ajar at the entrance to the main tower. In front of these, facing the towards entrance, stand two disfigured statues of warriors in lifelike combat pose. Any character who doesn’t charge straight in will hear a shifting of chains from the darkness beyond the doorway.


FIRST GLANCE: A basilisk. It may be the last thing the character sees.

CLOSER LOOKS: The wall has a number of armorial blocks and, to the east, a bas-relief Sun symbol with a yellow gem in the eye at its centre.

In the centre of the chamber, steps lead down into an unlit passage. To the right of the doorway, a spiral stair­case leads to the floor above.

DENIZENS: Amarna’s basilisk is chained to the wall opposite the doors. The chain is long enough for it to reach any point in this chamber.

COMMENTS: The basilisk could not be hatched within the castle walls, where the power of Law is still strong, so Amarna hatched it at the ancient chaos shrine in the woods. Anyone who was bitten by an adder there will be resistant to the stare of this basilisk.

The Sun symbol provides the key to the location of Missal’s treasure. The rays of the dawn will pass through the gem in the symbol’s eye, focusing through the tower entrance on the recessed gem in the wall. The light beam is diffracted south slightly by this second gem and falls directly on the small island to the west of the castle. Anyone looking from the castle at dawn will clearly see a suffusion of blood-red light from the island, lasting for about twenty seconds.


The steps go down about eight metres. The walls are of granite blocks. At the end is a heavy oak door (not locked).

OVERVIEW: The room is 5 metres square. There are brackets for torches on either side. There are three chests against the wall. The door to the east is closed. Weapons hang on the walls.

CLOSER LOOKS: The chests contain arms and armour. The door to the east is sturdily locked.

TREASURE: The first chest contains a light scale hauberk (SIZ 8), plate greaves and vambraces, and a closed helm. This armour is embossed with red lacquer with a continuous design in black  based on the form of the Truth rune. There is also a broadsword. The second chest contains an iron full helm with a demonic black visage, and an iron battle axe. The last chest contains a plate cuirass(SIZ 12) and three broadswords. The other weapons are: four long spears, three pikes, four bastard swords, two light crossbows (both in bad repair), and a shortsword.

COMMENTS: There are two keys to the east door. One is on Amarna’s person, the other is in her room in the tower above. The armour in the first chest was made for Missal’s young son. It was never used.

OVERVIEW: The passage runs down another two metres or so along its length. Spots of pallid mould clump the walls. The air here seems unhealthily damp.

CLOSER LOOKS: The passage terminates in a heavy portal of black wood. This bears a lead knocker in the form of the Chaos rune. The door will not open.

COMMENT: Amarna set the knocker on this door. The moment it is rapped the door will open easily.

OVERVIEW: A hemispherical chamber of 5 metre radius. The characters emerge onto a landing raised 3 metres above the floor. Steps lead down to the floor from either end of the landing. There is a stench of putrefaction.

CLOSER LOOKS: A macabre and horrible sight – around the wall are chained skeletons and half-rotted corpses, the victims of Amarna’s revenge. There are fifteen bodies in all. One (clamped in a chair at the point marked G) has pride of place; it has no head.

There is a narrow passageway off the landing, leading south. Lichen stains the wall to a height of nearly 3 metres.

SPOT HIDDEN: There is a small inlet at the point marked H on the map. A character of SIZ 13 or less could squeeze through and crawl along to the swampy fringes of the lake.

TRAPS: If the character who touched the knocker was not associated with Chaos, or if the door was broken open, Amarna’s trap is activated. After three rounds a block slides up in the far wall and water begins to flow into the chamber. From the same opening lumbers a marsh-dwelling Chaos creature which Amarna has partially brought under her control. The water will continue to rise until it reaches a level of 27 metres, which takes five minutes; it then drains rapidly away. The trap requires sorcery and must be renewed by Amarna before it will work again.


This muddy brown creature, roughly humanoid but with overlarge arms and a small head, is covered with writhing, stunted tentacles which distribute mud and slime over its body. It identifies Amarna by the Mastery rune belt buckle she wears. It will attack anyone without this distinguishing symbol. It will not carry a fight beyond this chamber because it fears getting cut off from the marsh, and it retreats when the water level starts to fall.

COMMENTS: The corpse in the chair is all that is left of Lord Calomel – with the exception of the fragment in the Missal crypt (5, below).

OVERVIEW: At the head of the stairs the way is interrupted by a bed of flickering coals.

CLOSER LOOKS: The air above the coals is smoky and shimmers with heat, but some details can be made out of the crypt beyond.

TRAPS: A member of the Missal family or one of their loyal retainers, can cross the coals without harm. Anyone else will be attacked by a medium salamander (fire elemental). The coals could be jumped, of course, in which case the salamander will not emerge. The bed of coals is 3½ metres across, and since it is at the top of a flight of steps any jump must be a standing one (giving -15% from Jumping skill).


OVERVIEW: Three stone sarcophagi under a vaulted roof, each bearing the Missal crest (four swords in the form of the Mastery Rune). The middle sarcophagus is open. A severed head in an iron helmet rests on a wooden trestle at the foot of the open sarcophagus.

CLOSER LOOKS: The skeleton in the open sarcophagus has its skull pillowed by a gilded scroll-case. The other sarcophagi are smaller than the central one, and if opened will be found to contain the remains of two children. The adult skeleton wears cloth-of-gold robes and clasps an iron greatsword to its chest. Its legs have been hacked off at the knees.

Anyone who had the Dream of Betrayal will recognize Lord Calomel’s head from the wisps of red beard still clinging to it. His helmet has a silver trefoil crest.

DENIZENS: Missal’s ghost has INT 11 and POW 15. It floats forward as though out of a mist – a gaunt, spectral figure of tormented aspect whose legs end at the knee. The ghost appears only if anyone tries to loot the tomb, and attacks only if they continue looting after it has warned them off. It will speak (in Sovereign), first to threaten any who would plunder the tomb, and then to relate the tale of Missal’s death. The ghost’s version of the tale runs contrary to the events shown in the Dream of the Betrayal; it claims that Missal was drugged by Loku and later awoke to find Lord Calomel’s men had taken over the castle. Calomel then tortured him, hacked off his legs, and finally put him to death.

TREASURE: Missal’s sword has a POW storage crystal (POW 8) set into the hilt. The gilded scroll-case under the skull contains a parchment with the words Loyalty beyond the grave in gold leaf upon it. The value of this is 85 L.

Calomel’s helmet (an iron open helm) is perhaps the greatest treasure here. A character putting it on will know that he has automatically attuned it. This counts
as the one attuned crystal a character can have, so if he already had a crystal it is now unattuned. The major power of the helmet is to warn its wearer of the presence of undead. This warning takes the form of a dull “heartbeat” when undead are within 80 metres, growing increasingly louder as the undead approach with an abrupt silence moments before they arrive. The minor power of the helmet is that it functions as a turn undead  matrix; the wearer must permanently relinquish
a POW point for each use of this spell. Those powers must be discovered by trial and error or else by analyze magic as they are not immediately obvious to the wearer.

If any of the treasure is taken, or if Missal’s remains are disturbed after his ghost issues its warning, thirteen of his warriors will rise from their graves in the courtyard (see NPCs).

COMMENTS: The smaller bodies are those of Missal’s sons. Amarna left Calomel’s head here so that her husband might relish in death the final destruction of his hated foe. It was Calomel who chopped off Missal’s legs and then, a few months later, killed him. Calomel saw this as an apt cruelty, for Missal was a renowned runner and athlete.



Beyond the heavy oak door to the south a short flight of steps leads down to the battlements along the castle wall. The door can be barred from inside. A passage leads north from the landing.

OVERVIEW: A large fireplace in the vast wall has several shields hung over it. There are two bay windows. One of the two dining tables is on its side, broken, as though some incredible force had hurled it against the wall.

CLOSER LOOKS: One of the lead candlesticks on the floor has been completely flattened. The fireplace contains the burnt remains of several wooden shields. The design can still be made out on one or two of these: a silver trefoil on a grey field. In the grate there is a silver horn worked with feral, unhuman faces.

SPOT HIDDEN: A trapdoor in the floor by the west wall overlooks the dungeon stairway in the entrance chamber below.

TREASURE: The horn was one of the magical artefacts Amarna used up in retaking the castle. Its energies are now completely expended, but it still has its intrinsic value of about 400 L.

8. MAIN BEDCHAMBER (locked; Amarna has the key)
OVERVIEW: There are dust and cobwebs everywhere. Dominating the room is a four-poster bed with velvet covers. The bay window in the west wall looks out over the courtyard. There is a desk in the north-west corner and an armour-rack (empty) against the east wall. Another door leads north.

CLOSER LOOKS: The door in the north wall is locked. (The same key is needed to open it.) A thorough search of the desk (i.e., if it is taken apart) will unearth a vellum letter pasted above a drawer inside it. This has a wax seal with the Missal crest (three upright swords over one horizontal) and the heading, “To my sons”. The letter reads:

For certain treasures of our family you must wait to greet the Lord as He rises and meets the eye with His gaze. Follow as He guides you through the door and the blood-red eye, and where the drop of His blood falls, there delve until you have found.

Under the bed there is a small coffer containing 120L and 20 W.

COMMENTS: Amarna removed all trace of Calomel’s occupancy from this room and since then has kept it locked. The letter was written years ago by Lord Missal. It refers to the treasure buried on the small island across the lake to the west (see
later). The letter has remained hidden in the desk for thirty years.

OVERVIEW: This room contains a black-draped four-poster and a desk against the opposite wall. There is a battered wooden chest on the floor in one corner. The bay window gives a view of the woods to the north. A door connects with 8.

CLOSER LOOKS: The connecting door is locked. Several sheets of paper on the desk describe the location of a Chaos citadel two hundred miles to the north-east, in the hills beyond Miasmos, which was one of the places Amarna learned her mystic arts.

The chest contains some jewellery, four sealed flasks, and pages of notes – Amarna’s and Gorstang’s battle plans for retaking the castle and their intended attack on the village.

DENIZENS: Amarna herself will be here if not forewarned of intruders by Gorstang.

TREASURE: The jewellery comprises a robe clasp (red gem in a gold setting, worth 3000 L ), a necklace with several stones missing (worth 300 L) and a ring (white gold with small black gemstone, worth 650 L).

The potions are a pale yellow liquid with a bosky smell (herbal systemic poison, potency 9), a dark green liquid (spider venom systemic, potency 7), an acrid, viscous amber fluid (blade venom, potency 11) and a pale yellow liquid without odour (a spoiled magical potion: drinker gains random Chaotic feature for fifteen minutes and attacks others indiscriminately and Fanatically for this time, then loses 1D4 POW and 1D3 DEX permanently; the Chaotic feature is 20% likely to recur each time the drinker uses any other magical potion).

The notes on the desk would be useful to crusading Lawful types. They could pay up to 8000 L (if the characters think of selling the information) but may turn nasty if they suspect they’re being duped or taken advantage of.

A narrow stairway leads up to the next floor.

To the north, steps lead through an archway and, beyond that, a balcony with steps down to the wall. An iron grille can be lowered to block the archway. There is a corridor to the south.

OVERVIEW: A plain, almost empty chamber with a single pallet and travelling kit over by the west wall.

CLOSER LOOKS: A shortsword and three throwing daggers are tucked under the pallet.

DENIZENS: Gorstang spends six hours a night sleeping here; he will awaken as soon as the door is opened. At other times he is usually on watch in the gatehouse or patrolling the walls.



OVERVIEW: Racks along the west wall contain bedding, various utensils, five composite bows with full quivers, and three hand axes.

OVERVIEW: An unadorned chamber. The large bay window to the east has latticed panes of yellow and red glass forming a vertical line of Truth Runes. A white cloth with a black Death Rune drapes the altar in front of this window.

CLOSER LOOKS: The altar originally had panels which have been removed.

COMMENTS: Originally a chapel to Yelmalio. The Calomel clan turned it into a chapel to Humakt, their own favoured deity. The altar panels depicted Yelmalio and had to be taken out.

OVERVIEW: A small bed with a rough blanket. There is a desk in front of the window.

CLOSER LOOKS: The desk contains sheet music for the flute. There is also a manuscript copy of a composition by the Master Barak Verdayn. A flute is among the priest’s personal effects in a satchel under his bed.

TREASURE: In the right circles the manuscript could fetch 400 L


This is buried at the foot of the middle poplar on the small island west of Cinderbrake Castle. An bronze-clasped chest inlaid with ivory contains a book, a silver statuette, a gold drinking cup, and a ruby ring.

The Book of the Fleet-Footed is the fruit of Missal’s last years. He was a renowned athlete of his day, winning the plaudits and envy of his peers at countless competitions. The book instructs in how to improve DEX by 1 point and Jumping, Climbing and Swimming scores by 10%. The normal training time is still required, and the reader cannot of course take his DEX over species maximum.

The silver statuette is worth 950 L intrinsically, and up to 2000 L as a work of art. The gold drinking cup is worth 1800 L. The ring is worth 5000 L as a piece of jewellery and is also a matrix for the Yelmalio cult spell lantern 4.


Amarna was thirty when the Calomel clan attacked Cinderbrake castle and ruthlessly slew its inhabitants. Amarna escaped with the young warrior Gorstang whom Lord Missal charged with her protection. Amarna has devoted half her life to gleaning magical secrets from hermits in the swamps of Miasmos, even pledging herself to the powers of Death and Chaos in her all-consuming desire for revenge. A good deal of her magic was used up in annihilating Lord Calomel and his retainers. Now she is trying to build up POW for more Rune magic so that she can complete her revenge by destroying Loku and the villagers.

Amarna always carries a key-ring with the keys to the dungeon and to Missal’s room. Her belt-buckle has a gold Mastery Rune.


Gorstang was a young warrior in Lord Missal’s service. When Missal realized that his hated foes were sacking the castle he sent Amarna away with Gorstang. Gorstang might have preferred to stay and die with his lord, but his loyalty is absolute and he has guarded Amarna these past thirty years. Like most of the Missal clan, Gorstang worshipped Yelmalio. Religion is unimportant to him now, however - his only god is his duty to Missal. Not so long ago he contracted swamp fever and was gravely ill for months; his health is slowly recovering, but even in his present weakened state he is a formidable opponent. Note that he has an iron helm.

Loku is in his early fifties, a man of vigour and decisive action. Although by nature a bullying and deceitful sort, Loku will portray himself to newcomers as the honestly worried leader of the village. He will try to send adventurers against Amarna and then have Holmek poison any survivors.

Loku began his rise to power in the village thirty years ago, when he was instrumental in betraying the castle to Lord Calomel, a rival baron envious of Missal’s power and prestige. Loku was steward at the castle then; he drugged the guards and then signalled to the Uenmoro warriors waiting in the darkness of the forest. After a wholesale slaughter Calomel rewarded Loku with a stipend. Loku added further to his wealth by murdering occasional travellers and stealing their possessions.

When Amarna returned and wrought her revenge on the Calomel clan, Loku’s first instinct was to cut and run. But Holmek the shaman suggested that Amarna’s powers would be depleted after the excesses of her vengeance, that she would realize Loku was now forewarned and so was likely to gather more magical power before moving against him. Loku was convinced that Amarna could be defeated, and now seeks to weaken her further before making his own pre-emptive strike.

Holmek is a young man who has come under Loku’s influence. He is quite honourable according to his own lights, but has only heard Loku’s account of that night thirty years ago and believes that Missal was a tyrant whom Loku was forced to betray in the end. Holmek never liked the usurper Calomel, and could not understand Loku’s close association with him.

He doesn’t like the idea of poisoning travellers, but is completely in thrall to Loku and does as he is told while finding ways to justify it to himself. A few months ago Holmek tried to bargain with a spirit for control, but he couldn’t spare the POW and this has further undermined his feeble confidence and driven him to completely relinquish any sense of self-responsibility through obedience to Loku.

Aitch and Bato are a couple of ruffians who had to leave Deliverance in a hurry after their employer was brutally murdered. They arrived in Loku’s village thinking that he was just an old rustic they could push around, but soon learned better. Their grudging respect for Loku turned to admiration when he poisoned the king’s officer who had tracked them from Deliverance. Now they are as loyal to Loku as men of their unsavoury character can be.

There is bantering antagonism between the two of them. Bato has beaten Aitch in several drunken brawls and Aitch now thinks his friend is a much better fighter than he is. He has a tendency to toady to Bato, who often takes the lead and will put Aitch down in front of others, but the bottom line is that the two are inseparable chums and will trust their lives to one another.

Thirteen of the warriors buried under the tree in the courtyard of Cinderbrake castle will rise as zombies if Missal’s remains are disturbed. They will then make their way to the crypt, attacking anyone who gets in their way except for Amarna, whom they instinctively recognize. After slaying those in the crypt and setting their lord’s body and effects back in his sarcophagus they will return to their graves.

These zombies are badly rotted, and their arms and armour are corroded, hence the irregular stats.

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A few people have asked if it would be okay to share PDFs or Word versions of this scenario. Sure, be my guest. I only ask that you attribute it to Dave Morris and Oliver Johnson, and if you include a link back here to the FL blog that would be ever so nice.