Magical Rod of Nerfing.

The fun part about crafting custom loot is coming up with different ways to break the balance of the game-- slightly. Sometimes, though, I don't think things through as much as I should.

Take the Merciless Longbow of Bleeding, which does double-damage when the target is bloodied. 2d10+2+the DEX modifier bonus is a lot of damage, sure, but it's not a ridiculous amount of damage.

But when the ranger uses Twin Strike with her Merciless Longbow of Bleeding, she's doing 4d10+2+DEX modifier damage. Oh, plus 1d8 Hunter's Quarry. That's potentially over 50 points of damage. For a level-three character using an at-will power, that's the very definition of ridiculous.

Moral of the story: be smarter than Tom. Not a particularly difficult task, to be sure...

Shigeru's Radiant Cloak of Hearts.

When the wearer is completely healthy (max HP), melee attacks deal an extra 2d6 radiant damage and push the target two squares.

Scepter of Chain Lightning.

Range 8, DEX+3 vs REF.

On a hit, roll 2d6 for damage. If the die result is 10+, roll 2d6 again. These results stack until a die roll is less than 10. There are no bonuses on this weapon.

If an attack misses, push the target 1 square.

Amulet of Bloodrock.

When wearing this amulet, a magic attack does a critical hit on a roll of 19 or 20, and does an additional 2d6 amulet damage.

Amulet of Critical Striking.

When a magic attack scores a critical hit, the wearer can making the same kind of magic attack-- even if it is an encounter or daily power-- against another target within range. This does not work for area attacks.


Fluff: The frogdog is a reptilian quadruped that has a body shape and posture similar to that of a stout bulldog. Its face, however, resembles that of its first syllable's namesake, with a wide mouth, deep-set eyes, and a long, dangerous tongue (more on that below). Unlike frogs, however, their mouths are lined with a set of razor-sharp teeth.

The frogdogs are sometimes domesticated and bred as companion animals by kobolds. They may be some sort of evolutionary offshoot from the icy-breathed white dragon, as they possess a pair of cold-generating glands deep in the back of their large necks. These also help modulate their body temperatures, allowing them to live and thrive near extreme heat.

Some frogdogs (10%) derive pleasure from the stimulation of lightning and electricity, much the same way a cat or dog will enjoy being stroked.

Frogdog, Level 3 Controller, medium natural beast (reptile). XP 150.
HP 42-50*
AC 17 FORT 17 REF 16 WILL 14
Speed 6
Resist 5 to lightning (10% chance), resist 10 to cold

Standard Actions

Talons, At-Will (Melee)
Attack: +9 vs. AC
Hit: 1d8+3

Chill-Tongue, Recharge 5, Ranged
Attack: +7 vs REF, range 5, one target.
Effect: The target is grabbed by the frogdog's long, sticky tongue and pulled 2 sq. towards the frogdog. Target remains grabbed by the tongue until they escape.

Cool Minty Fresh Breath Weapon, Encounter, Blast-3
Attack: +7 vs REF
Hit: 2d4 cold damage, and the target is slowed until the end of the frogdog's next turn.

Triggered Actions

Reel 'em in, At-Will
An enemy that is grabbed with Chill-Tongue is pulled one square towards the frogdog.

Terrible Bite, At-Will, Melee
Trigger: An enemy held by Chill-Tongue is in a square adjacent to the frogdog.
Attack: +8 vs AC
Hit: 2d10 + 3.

STR 16 (+4)
DEX 10 (+1)
WIS 11 (+1)
CON 14 (+3)
INT 2 (-3)
CHA 6 (-1)

*-- When dealing with multiple monsters of the same type, I like to vary their hit-points slightly.

6. Dungeon Crawl

Time to break the fourth wall just a little. While our heroes have thwarted the Curse of the Firepalm Mine and looted the Tomb of the Gnollish Kings, they really haven't spent a whole lot of time dungeoneering. The focus so far has been more on interacting with the peoples of the various frontier settlements and traversing the wilderness. This session, however, was an old-fashioned dungeon crawl, and while there were some great character-and-story moments, it doesn't really lend itself to the kind of session recaps we've done in the past.

The session pretty much started right at the doorstep of the Tomb of the Gnollish Kings, seeking to either rescue or destroy the young dragon that was sealed behind the Firepalm Door in the resting chamber of the Gnollish King of What Will Be. We skimmed over how Robyn acquired the skeletal steed that once belonged to the orc they bested in the last time, how Jarmangle's egg hatched to reveal a Dire Falcon, how Robyn gave him the glove he needed to command the violent creature, and how Feer asked the kobold Meepo to come along, so that he might talk with the dragon or any kobolds that awaited them inside.

Once inside the resting chamber, Tralamin used the ritual stone that the deceased Steampunk Gnoll gave her to open the door; both the door and the stone melted into a goopy pile of wax, revealing a tunnel. The six of them-- Robyn, Feer, Jarmangle, Irving, Tralamin, and Meepo-- headed down the sloped tunnel for about an hour. When they reached its end, they found themselves in a room walled with white polished stone.

I1. At the far end of the room, there is a fountain without any water. On either side of the fountain, two gnollish statues. In the center of the floor, there is a large and mysterious plate. Try as they might, they cannot open the plate. Tralamin determines that the statues are living/animated but currently dormant-- but not before he and Jarmangle damage one of the statues, cracking off a foot. Irving reaches into the fountain to pluck some kind of arcane coin.

I2. Here there slumbers a strange reptilian beast, a "Frogdog". It cradles between its stubby arms a Scepter bursting with electricity that gently strokes its head. The group decides not to bother it at the moment, but takes note of a staircase leading downwards.

I3. In this room, they find a crank. No matter how hard they try, they cannot get it to budge. Here, too, is a staircase leading down. And down they go.

II1. This corridor connects the two staircases, and in the middle, to the south, sits a fountain much like the first, only filled with water and coins. On either side of the fountain is an indentation in the wall; in each indentation, there's a heavy chain. When Irving puts his coin into the fountain with the others, the chains loosen; now the crank in I3 can be manipulated. Once they have done so, this fountain drains dry, and the back opens up to reveal II2.

II2. Once they enter this room, the entrance seals up behind them, and the room begins to fill with water. Meepo the Kobold recognizes the trap as a very old Kobold design and points out a circular plate on the ceiling. The water will rise up and press against the plate; once it holds its pressure against it for a set amount of time-- enough to drown the inhabitants-- the room will drain and reset. Irving uses his mage-hand; Jarmangle makes several attempts to climb up to the plate; eventually, they press it in. The water is drained-- now filling the fountain at I1, and the circular plate opens. Climbing up, Jarmangle finds himself in I1.

The statues have now been activated-- probably by the crank-- and they are engaged in battle with a number of Fire Dwarfs who have followed our heroes down. Also on the offensive is the now-awakened frogdog. Jarmangle shimmies back down to II2 and informs his friends of what's going on.

They sneak back up the stairs to I2, and staying out of sight, they watch as the statues clobber the snot out of the Fire Dwarfs. When the frogdog takes note of them, they, too, join the fray. Meepo makes a half-hearted attempt before fleeing, and in his haste he falls down the stairs.

Once they've won the battle, Irving investigates the fountain. Reflected in the water he sees a cavern filled with stalactites and bats. He puts his leg in and notes that it does not touch the bottom; he goes all the way through to find himself in the cave.

He beckons the others; they follow, and find themselves face-to-face with the Steampunk Gnoll.

Part II.

1. It is revealed that the Steampunk Gnoll has not come back from the dead, but rather hasn't died yet; he is the Gnollish King of What Will Be and as such ages backwards. This is his first meeting with them, and their last with him. He reveals that he has the Ritual Stone that Tralamin destroyed to open the door, and now that she's used it, he will move back through time so that he can give it to her. He warns them that there is indeed a dragon within, and that it must be destroyed for it is evil. Whether this is fact or gnollish prejudice, they cannot say. With that, he is on his way.

2. Passing through the melted wax of another former Firepalm Door, they come to the True Resting Place of the Gnollish King. The slab where he once rested is rigged to an arrow trap in the walls. The hallway to the east is blocked by a sort of mechanical door. Actually, though they don't know it yet, it's blocked by two mechanical doors.

These sets of mechanical doors, marked with an "X" in the corresponding four-way forks, are always parallel. And so, when the hallway running from 3 to 4 is clear, the hallway from 5 to 6 is also clear while the doors block access from 2 to 6 and 4 to 9; when 2 to 6 and 4 to 9 are clear, 3 to 4 and 6 to 5 are blocked. At the start, the passage-ways running north-and-south are clear.

3. In this room, two small foxes, a mother and a cub, made completely of living flame are menaced by a frogdog. The heroes scare the frogdog away, and in appreciation, the mother firefox illuminates a secret set of markings on the cave wall. This turns out to be two crude maps showing rooms 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 9, with the first map showing the north-south halls clear and the second the west-east. It also marks this room with an "X" and room 6 with a rotating arrow.

4. This room is filled with the remnants of an arrow trap. If our heroes wished, they could repair the trap and lure whatever harmful creatures they might come across to its waiting doom. Our heroes chose not to do this.

5. This room was occupied by a couple of kobolds. Irving engaged them in conversation and learned that they are the descendants of kobolds from Kobold Pocket who followed the Gnollish King who had killed the dragon and stole its infant. Trapped here "by gnollish trickery", they have carefully modulated their lives over the successive generations to ensure there would always be someone to tend to the growing dragon's needs.

Robyn reveals that they might intend to do harm to the dragon, and a skirmish follows. The heroes quickly and effortlessly squash the kobolds. They then explore the kobold settlement (11-17) and learn more about how their society works before heading south to 6.

6. This room is dominated by a giant crank. When all our heroes turn the crank together, they change the orientation of the mechanical walls from north-south to west-east. It takes them a moment to wrap their head around this. They turn the crank again, re-setting the hallways to north-south, and head back through 5 and 4 before bearing West towards 8.

8. There is a 2x2x2 cube-shaped weight here with a pulling-ring on top. The ring sits next to a 2x2x2 indentation in the floor. No matter how hard they push or shove it, they cannot get the magical weight to budge. Jarmangle used a dead kobold's hand to grab hold of the ring, and the weight moved.

I'll admit that doesn't make a whole lot of sense, and I was kinda hoping they'd do something crazy like use Tralamin's lone ritual scroll of passwall on the floor at a sloped angle to cause the weight to fall into place. But they seemed kinda stuck and I wanted to reward Jarmangle's ingenuity, and so, the kobold's hand moved the gnollish stone, revealing a secret chamber filled with gold and armour.

7. This chamber was lined with miniatures volcanoes that spewed searing magma in the air at random intervals. Irving used his ice magic to freeze a part of the wall, and they all made a run for it, just barely escaping hot lava-y death. And then they found themselves back in 1, were a little confused, and then realized they should have turned the crank in 6, move west to 2, and then trek through 1, 7, and 8 back to 4 and then to 9, if 9 was, indeed, where they wanted to be.

They determined that 9 was the magic number after exploring the firefox caves (18-23), but weren't enthused about going back through room 7 again. And so, they went back to 6, turned the crank to clear the hallways going west-east, and used the Scroll of Passwall on the mechanical wall between 6 and 5. They then skipped over to 9.

9. This room exists primarily to let them catch their breaths and peer into 10 and, holy crap, there's a dragon in there. But before we get there, let's look at the Kobold Settlement and Firefox Caves.

Kobold Settlement

11. This main area, off of which all the others branch, was notable for the writing over each tunnel. In this campaign settings, kobolds don't have a written language-- but these ones do. Using a Comprehend Language ritual, Irving identifies the names of each room.

12. This greenhouse uses magical living fire to grow vegetables deep underground: radishes, beans, cauliflower, etc.

13. This kennel houses a number of frogdogs, which are bred to be companion animals for the kobolds.

14. There are a number of sleeping "pods" in the wall, where a number of extremely ugly-looking kobolds, most of them children, slumber. The floor is lined with a metal lattice, and surrounding the perimeter of the room are a number of spears; touching the lattice in anyway causes the spears to fly through the air. There is a lever near the wall; when the kobolds awaken, they pull the lever to disarm the trap. When they go to sleep, they reset it to keep themselves safe.

15. A small fishing pond is here. The kobolds are careful not to over-fish, so that there is enough to feed both them and the dragon.

16. A forge. There is a fireproof bucket near the anvil, which is used to carry the extremely-hot magical fire from room 23.

17. The library. It is here that Irving learns of the precisely-regimented laws and quotas that have been designed to sustain the kobolds, and their dragon, for over a hundred years without any contact with the outside world.

The Firefox Caves

18, 19, 21, and 22. All caves occupied by firefoxes, most of them tending to their cubs. As the heroes move deeper towards 23, they're supposed to do progressively more difficult endurance checks to make sure they don't pass out from the heat. After the first two really lousy rolls, though, I stopped asking them to do this.

20. Here there is the body of a kobold who has passed out from the heat and died. He carried a bucket with which he hoped to scoop up the living fire. A firefox sees that Tralamin carries a similar bucket and growls at him.

23. The heroes didn't come here until after they met the dragon, but if they had, they would have seen a broiling lake of magical fire, from which a number of firefox cubs are born. Said cubs are immediately adopted by waiting mothers.

The Dragon.

10. There is, indeed, a young dragon-- still much bigger than they would have anticipated-- and on its head it wears a very familiar owlbear rug. Yes, the same rug that Tralamin had worn as a cloak, which fell into the miles-deep chasm in the Tomb of Gnollish Kings, fell until it found its way here. Tralamin, whose grip on his sanity has always been slightly questionable-- he suggests, at one point, presenting the dragon's kobolds to it as food, but only after cutting off their faces so that the dragon wouldn't recognize it-- wants the owlbear cloak back and tries to strike up a bargain with the dragon.

The Dragon tells them that he swore for fifty years that if someone would free him, he would give them a heap of gold, but no one came. And so he swore for fifty years that if someone would free him, he would serve them without question, catering to their every wish. But for the last hundred years-- so angry is it that no one ever came--he swore that he would eat whoever came to free him, and then wreak terrible havoc upon the entire world.

This, naturally, leads to a fight. It's a tough fight-- Tralamin especially takes a lot of damage-- but eventually, they eke out some slight shade of a victory. There was some cool, creative stuff-- for example, Irving fired a couple magic missiles directly into the dragon's anus for extra damage-- and the dragon did a fair amount of damage, but, honestly? I don't think the fight was an exciting or as fun as some of our other fights. I think it's because the dragon was a single creature, and the tactical combat systems that distinguish 4e (much to the chagrin of some) really work better in situations with multiple opponents.

After felling the dragon, Tralamin claims her owlbear rug cloak and the others harvest souvenirs from the corpse: scales that they'll turn to armour, meat that will surely be a delicacy, claws and even eyeballs. Irving's a little perturbed by the way the others just dig into the dead thing, and all of them are given pause when two kobolds appear and begin to mourn the dragon, keening.

After the dragon

After the dragon, the volcanoes in room 7 grow dormant and the magma lake in 23 starts to cool. The firefoxes burn themselves out. The world of this dungeon is slightly less vibrant and less magical; such is the power of a dragon.

One little firefox cub, on the verge of death, moves Feer to pity. With the magic scepter Peacebringer, she touches the cub; it returns to life, now made of white radiant light. It follows Feer as it would a mother.


It was fun designing and running one of these sorts of adventures, and I really loved it when my players started to put together exactly how to traverse the dungeon. At the same time, it pointed up some of my weaknesses as a dungeon master; these sorts of dungeons need a clear statement of spatial relationships and elements, and I'm just not very clear when it comes to describing things. I can see it in my head, but I often use just the wrong word and give just the wrong impression. This was mitigated somewhat when I started forcing myself to use North, South, East, and West to describe where the tunnels were branching off; my habit of calling them "doors" when I meant "tunnel" or "opening", on the other hand, definitely worked against me. It was stressful and frustrating for both me and my players, and I'm looking forward to something more story-and-mileau-focused for next time.


The Tom Russell Method of Puzzle Design.

When I design a puzzle in a video game, I need to very carefully work out the solution and the clues that lead the player to that solution. And in some games, like Seq.Breaker, I need to come up with two or three solutions to the same room, each fitting different circumstances, without getting in the way of each other. Which is exhausting.

But I don't need to do that in D&D. I can just throw a seemingly impossible problem at the players and tell them to fix it. And then they do, often in very creative, surprising, and delightful ways. About half the puzzles I've created for my players-- and "puzzles" here encompasses also traps and obstacles like a bottomless chasm that needs crossing or an Eye of Alarm that stands poised to warn the wight inside of their approach-- are not designed with any solution in mind on my end. There's no agonizing over clues/story points, and I don't need to spend hours adjusting pixels or play-testing like I do with video game design; I just write "giant walls are going to smooch you!" on the back on my index card, and it's done. Ten seconds of prep that equals about ten minutes of gameplay/storytelling.

Now, I'm not stupid about it: very few of these sorts of challenges are designed to kill or threaten the player, and those that are deadly-- like that bottomless chasm-- won't hurt the player while they're discussing their options.


You Should Read Grognardia.

Through an entry at d20 Source, I stumbled upon Grognardia earlier today and spent several hours reading and/or skimming through over a hundred of the posts. Which took me as far back as late August-- links within posts leading to other posts notwithstanding-- which should give you some idea of the wealth of information that awaits you in those pages, which are very highly recommended.

It is, as you can probably guess from the name, very much about the old school D&D. To some, it might seem a little odd for a site devoted to a 4e campaign to be tipping its hat to a site dedicated to a very different kind of D&D that has sometimes very little in common with, and less use for, fourth edition. But to me-- well, to me, it's not odd at all: the writing is pleasurable, smart, and wide-ranging; I've found it useful from both a historical and a design perspective. What else could you want from a D&D blog?


One of the older posts on Grognardia is entitled Gygaxian "Naturalism", and it's keeping me up tonight. It's definitely worth reading in its entirety, but in brief,

The intention behind Gygaxian Naturalism is to paint a picture of a "real" world, which is to say, a world that exists for reasons other than purely gaming ones. The implication is that monsters have lives of their own and thus go about their business doing various things until they encounter the player characters.

It's something one sometimes loses sight of when they're creating a sneaky puzzle or setting up a cool trap, and when I came across that post, I took a look at my dungeon for Sunday and realized that its denizens didn't have any space to have those lives of their own. No place to sleep or defecate, nothing to eat-- they're just standing around one of the nine rooms waiting to fight/be saved/be tricked/what-have-you, and have apparently been standing there for a couple hundred years. This will not do, and so I'm adding two whole new wings to give my [creatures] and [creatures] some sense of verisimilitude.

The players might never visit these wings, and there's nothing in them that's going to help solve the larger puzzle of making their way to the dragon. But I want them to be there so that the players (1) can plum their depths if they so choose and (2) so that it "fits" together. Both (1) and (2) really point to the same thing-- to create "a world that exists for reasons other than purely gaming ones".


+2 of Awesomeness

Whenever a player suggests something that's incredibly awesome-- like jumping into a miles-deep pit after an owlbear rug and attempting to grab the loosely dangling frayed rope that will save him from death with his feet-- I give them a +2 awesomeness bonus on their roll.


Fun Facts.

As you can tell from a cursory glance-around of these pages, Call of the West is a home-made D&D setting, with its own quirks and lore and the like. I wanted the players to have some grounding in the setting-- while this is their first time West of the river, they would know/have heard about some of what awaits them-- without giving them a huge info-dump. That's why each of the seven players recieved a 3x5 index card, upon which was written a "Fun Fact" about the setting.

Most of the Fun Facts were incorporated into the adventure, and so when the heroes came across a Giant Turtle, the ranger Feer mentioned that they should give it a wide berth; when they came across a mound of gnoll faeces in the entrance of the mine, Filliam recognized it as a form of warning; when the dwarfs of Firepalm mentioned the "wretched cesspool of Hodam", Jarmangle told the others that he had heard of it, and that it was replete with drinking, violence, and whores, and why don't we go there sometime?

Other Fun Facts communicated something about the prejudices the East held towards the West, and particularly the gnollish tribes that wandered the plains. Another Fun Fact mentioned the Bell of Harvest, a delta at the end of the river that is rich in farmland but also the sight of violent territory wars-- setting up a Bloody Kansas sort of situation and further drawing on the setting's slight Western flavour.

I think my very first session was marred by a lot of mistakes on my part-- a climactic confrontation in which all the enemies are defeated by ranged attacks and never come near the PCs was not very thrilling-- and my own lack of confidence in what I was doing. But the Fun Facts really seemed to work and to get the players engaged in the game's world; every player had a chance to speak up and share their Fact, which helped some of them, at least momentarily, overcome their shyness/unsureness. The next time I start a campaign--regardless if it's another custom setting or one from a book-- I'm definitely going to use this approach again.

Anyone else ever try something like this?


If I had a dollar...

...for every time I got one of the D&D rules hilariously wrong, I'd have several dollars.

Getting better at it. Sorta.


Sneaky Pellets of Bamf.

Pellet creates a burst of smoke, obscuring your movements and allowing you to move unseen and thus without provoking opportunity attacks.

The Mouth of Death.

STR+5 vs AC; 1d10+5 dmg. When the blade strikes a fatal blow, the body explodes. Explosion is a burst-3 attack, STR+5 vs REF affecting all creatures in the radius (except yourself), 1d6+3 and targets are dazed until the end of your next turn.

Bracers of Immediate Interrupt.

When you are hit by a melee attack that is not an opportunity attack, and you are not granting combat advantage, you can roll a d20; if you roll a natural 20, you take no damage and knock your attacker prone. Otherwise, you take damage.

Bloodied Belt of Retribution.

When an attack makes you bloodied, your attacker takes twice the damage dealt by its attack.


The brutish orcs that populate the West regard other races with disdain and adhere to a bizarre honour code that favours violence and pillaging. Offering gifts or trade to an orc is an insult to be met with death; those who try to surrender or compromise are also seen as undeserving of life. They do not farm crops or craft weapons, declaring such pursuits to be unorcish and dishonourable.


Kobolds in most D&D settings are the trap-laying little son-of-a-guns who like to hang around dragon lairs. That's more-or-less true for the kobolds in the Call of the West campaign setting, only they take it a little farther-- not only hanging around dragons, not only worshiping them, but worshiping and being beholden to a specific dragon. When that dragon dies, whether of natural causes or adventurer-related injuries, the kobolds stay in the dragon's lair, preserving its bones, celebrating its life and deeds in festivals and rituals, revering it for generations.

5. The Bard Said South

Returning to Hodam from the ruins of Justice, our heroes are surprised to meet Darface-- whom Sheriff Feer had deputized to look after the city in their absence-- about a half-mile outside of Hodam. Something's happened, but they're unable to coax it out of him; he does advise, however, that they seek out Melany behind the brewery and give the rest of the town a wide berth.

They do so, meeting Melany, and their wizard friend Irving. They have bad news: the townsfolk, angered by how Feer and Jarmangle had appropriated a number of horses, wagons, and supplies, had rioted. Darface was unable to quell the riot, and the city's grain-stores had been burnt to the ground. But at least, Melany says, you have some good news to help quiet things down.

Of course, they don't; most of the ale is gone, without a cent to show for it. The city of Justice has been utterly destroyed. The bounty on Aratin's head was unclaimed. And the six whores were exhausted not for coin, but by Tralamin and Aratin's raging libidos. This, Melany tells them blankly, is the very opposite of good news. Chances are, if word of this disaster gets around town, the lot of them will be lynched.

They decide to seek out another town to ply their wares, with the bard Robyn suggesting that they head southwards. They leave four of the whores, and the severely hung-over Jarmangle, in Melany's care; Melany, in turn, appoints Irving the protector of the prostitutes, so that they might not be ill-used by Tralamin.


Having run out of food-- including the meat from Robyn's horse, the untanned skin of which is still worn by Tralamin as a foul-smelling cloak-- they keep a special eye out for something to hunt as they make their way south. Shortly after coming to a mountainous pass, they find an elk. Feer's longbow proves ineffective, and it starts to run off; Robyn, with an elf's special precision, kills it with an arrow to the head. Tralamin and Irving run over to pick it up.

A few yards from the elk's body, they see a group of ettercap hunters emerging from a hidden nook in the mountain. The ettercaps are lean with hunger, and seem prepared to fight over the meal. Wishing to avoid conflict, Irving offers them a third of the meat. The ettercaps find this agreeable, and leave our adventurers alone.

Feer cooks the meat-- it's gamy, but good-- and Tralamin decides to complement his rotting horse carcass with elk-skin pants.

The hat

Moving through the pass, they come to an obstruction; it's a huge plant, with a closed bulb the size of a man. Its roots and vines stretch out, thick and green, over the entirety of the pass. And entangled within that mass of foliage is the skeleton of a bard who wears a particularly fetching hat.

Tralamin-- and it's always Tralamin, isn't it?-- decides that he wants the hat for himself. Brashly, he rushes towards the growth and reaches for the hat. The vines lash out, grabbing him and hoisting him in the air; the plant's bulb opens, revealing seven petals, each lined with sharp teeth, and a sharply-pointed stem flinging out from the gulf of its seven-sided mouth.

Seeing the danger, Irving unleashes a magical blast of cold into the mouth, damaging the stem. Feer bravely rushes in with her sword in one hand and the gnollish mace Peacebringer in the other; before she can reach Tralamin, however, the vines grab hold of her, too. She hacks at the vine, but in vain; when she touches it with the Peacebringer, however, it releases both of them. They roll to safety.

Tralamin starts to reach for the hat again, but Irving intervenes, using his mage-hand to pluck the hat out of the mess. Tralamin puts on the hat and discards the horse carcass; Robyn, at long last, can bury what's left of her steed. The party pulls back and hits the plant with a number of ranged attacks, until it seems dead. Now that it's safe to approach, they examine and then loot the skeleton of the unfortunate bard.

Irving sets the plant mass on fire, and after it has burnt itself out, they ride their wagon right over its ashes.

The bridge and the gorge

Coming out of the pass and still heading south, the group comes to a deep, fairly wide gorge with seemingly no way down. There is a rickety old bridge swaying in the wind-- wide enough to accommodate the wagon, but unlikely stable enough to holds its wait. A number of possibilities, both ingenious and impractical, are considered, and it seems as if night will fall before they reach a solution. Finally, combining elements of various plans which brought new possibilities to light, which were then incorporated into other plans, which were then combined together, they arrived at an answer.

Capturing a small insect in a beer bottle, Tralamin and Irving use rope to lower themselves several feet along the cliff-face. Finding a crevice in which to place the bottle, Tralamin performs a difficult ritual-- made more-so by the fact that's he's hanging off the side of a cliff-- to transform the insect into a tree for a handful of hours. At the same time, Irving performs a ritual to increase its size, timing it so that it takes effect just as Tralamin has finished his ritual. The insect-turned-tree grows sideways from the cliff-face until its trunk stretches over the entire gorge, its branches destroying the rickety bridge and some mud huts on the other side.

Tralamin and Irving climb back up, and the group hurries over the gorge before the size-changing ritual loses its effect. On the other side, they meet a group of ettercap villagers who are quite upset at the destruction of their huts. Irving, however, is able to prevent things from escalating into violence.

They continue south, and as night falls, they make camp.

Part II

Kobold Pocket

Early in the morning, they come across what appears to be an ancient temple. The doors are blockaded with slabs; unable to find any mechanism to gain entrance, Irving opts to just knock on the door.

A voice answers, at first claiming, ridiculously, that there is no one within. The group explains that they're on a mission of trade and commerce. The voice relents, and, after a moment, the slab moves aside.

Two kobolds are in the room, operating cranks to move the slab; they rush off down a corridor, leaving the room empty. Irving peers in and notes a large cage suspended over much of the room, and cautions the others to be careful. No sooner has he said this, however, then he sets off the trap; luckily, everyone is able to avoid the cage.

A kobold appears, hoping to take them by surprise, and he is understandably miffed that they're not inside the cage. He distrusts them-- especially the elves-- but they're finally able to convince him that they are indeed simply trying to sell some ale and "entertainment". A couple of kobolds are sent to escort the wagon to the back of the structure-- which the first kobold calls "Kobold Pocket"-- and Tralamin accompanies them. The others follow the first kobold deeper into the temple.

It's been converted to a kobold settlement, with shops, homes, and areas for recreation. Irving, Feer, and Robyn take particular notice of the tall stalks of wheat growing here, without any visible source of sunlight; this is Darkwheat, the kobold explains, and it grows from the blood of their dragon. Said dragon was slain many years ago "by the gnollish kings", who "stole" its hatchling and sealed it up somewhere. Robyn realizes that this might be the "great evil" that is locked behind the door in the tomb of the Gnollish Holy Dead.

The Orc Problem

They are led to the leader of the kobolds, and there rejoin Tralamin and the wagon. The kobold leader finds the ale to be most excellent, and agrees to buy some "after the darkwheat season". Irving inquires how long that will be; the kobold says it won't be much longer. They're just waiting for the orcs to raid Kobold Pocket, butcher scores of kobolds, and steal the wheat, leaving only a few desperate scraps for the hungry kobolds.

It began when the ignorant kobolds tried to trade with the orcs; to an orc, an offer for trade is an insult. The kobolds then tried to give them some of the wheat, so that their lives may be spared; to an orc, a gift is an even graver offense. Orcs only accept that which they can take through violence and theft, and an insulted orc will err on the side of the former. This has been going on for generations; no matter how many traps they set, there are always more orcs, and a kobold can't hold his own against those mountains of muscle.

Tralamin says that they'll come back after the season, then, but Irving pressures the group to do something about these orcs. Learning from the kobolds that the orcs are completely unable to hold their liquor, the group decides to "allow" the orcs to "steal" the remaining ale, with Irving playing the role of the "victim". Then, the four heroes and the kobolds can make short work of the drunken hordes. The kobolds agree that this is a grand plan, and hold a feast in their honour.

Told it is a custom for guests to tell a story at a kobold table, Robyn regales them with a grossly-exaggerated version of their adventures, claiming to have single-handled destroyed the city of Justice (which, it could be argued, is technically true) and to have rid Firepalm of its dwarfs (which is an outright lie). Fully believing the prowess of their new friends, the kobolds prepare for battle.

Battle in the swamp

Robyn, Tralamin, and Feer wait with the kobolds some distance from the swamp where the orcs have made their camp. Irving drives the wagon into the swamp, and is soon set upon by vicious orcs. Using a smoke pellet to cover his exit, he watches from a distance as they discover the strong spirits within the wagon.

An hour or so later, the kobolds and the four adventurers head into the swamp together. Most of the orcs are passed out, or wobbling pathetically-- quick work for even the most cowardly of kobolds. However, a few orcs have proved to be made of sterner stuff, among them their fearsome leader Worgi, who holds the mighty two-bladed sword The Mouth of Death.

The battle is, in a word, hard-fought. Each of the four come dangerously close to death, and Worgi's armour proves frustratingly difficult to pierce, especially for Feer, who doesn't have the options that magic affords the others. Slowly, however, the half-dead and exhausted heroes manage to eke out the slimmest of victories. Feer claims Worgi's blade as her own, and they leave the swamp to tend to their many wounds.


The kobolds are elated to at last be freed from the orcish raiders. They give the heroes a quantity of darkwheat to take back home as a gesture of good faith, promising to come to Hodam to trade after they have finished celebrating.

Feer, still hungry for adventure and danger even as it brought her close to the reaper's embrace, suggests that they return to the Tomb of the Gnollish Holy Dead to seek out the young dragon imprisoned within, to either vanquish the evil or free it if its imprisonment proved unjust. Telling the dragon-worshiping kobolds only the latter, the quartet adds two of the kobolds to its ranks, and heads back to Hodam so that they might prepare for the challenges that await them.


Shigeru's Boomerang of Stun.

Boomerang can attack up to three targets with a range of ten, and then return. The first target is DEX+2 vs AC, the second DEX vs AC, the third DEX-2 vs AC. If any of these rolls fail, the boomerang will not return and may indeed be caught by your enemy.

The boomerang does 1d8+2 dmg, and the target is stunned until the end of your next turn.


Dagger of Necrotic Warding.

STR+2 vs AC; 1d4+2 necrotic dmg, and the target takes ongoing 4 necrotic damage (save ends). Magic-users who wield the dagger gain +5 resistance to necrotic damage.