Monday 23 December 2019

Piracy oneshot: wonky spy gas

A second group! I'm running a series of oneshots with my wife and her astronomy colleagues at the university. A bunch of them have never roleplayed before, so I can dust off my resolutions for how to introduce new people to the hobby

My plan is to first run a couple of oneshot adventures to showcase different aspects of play, rules systems and settings. There's a big group of potential players, so first I want them to get their bearings; then we can zoom in on a system and setting to dig our teeth into.

In this first oneshot the players join a pirate crew, get mutinied, navigate the Merabaha islands and a nearby office X-mas party, get pulled by conflicting secret missions and finally retake their ship. We didn't get to the dungeon at the end (a reskinned Hand of Dominion), but the trip was worthwile nonetheless. 

And all that thanks to wonky spy gas.


The New World is full of potential for those willing to risk life and limb; dangerous, sure, but here there is still freedom from the Old World powers and their grasping fleets. We find ourselves in the Merabaha islands, a vaguely Caribbean-esque archipelago in a sort-of 1600s time period: colonists, traders, pirates and just a whiff of the weird and strange.

The five player characters wake up out at sea with splitting headaches and a confused voice crying out for the captain. Said Jean-Marc Traneuille is slowly succombing to his wounds after being shot in the chest.

How did you get here? Flashback!

In the hurricane-struck settlement of Crimsontown, the Ranstead are hanging on by the skin of their teeth. The Valois captain Traneuille of La Belle Poule is holding court and hiring on crew in the Lusty Limpet tavern. The players make their way to the Limpet and into the back room. Here they introduce themselves to their captain and his mountain-of-muscle first mate, the quartermaster Silas Winch. Last one in is the artillerist Mark Brandzaam, who has spotted a bunch of customs men sneaking around the tavern and hurries in to sign his name to adventure on the high seas.


I'm using my Jar of Dirt ruleset and discovering that it still takes quite some time to build premade characters in it. Hence, I rolled up one character for each class and let the players choose. I also handed out personal secrets and missions to give the players some extra motivation. Sadly noone drew the "you're a vampire" background. Next time!

  • Fiorest Gump - Tarracon Sawbones: opium-addled ship doctor looking for money and drugs. Due to a typo on his character sheet, he is the confused owner of "wonky spygass". Waste not a good opportunity: we decide this is an experimental spyglass that uses a strange hallucinatory gas to increase range. Fiorest is secretly working for the Tarracon Inquisition and hunts for foul and unnatural things.
  • Nicholomir Candlano - Tarracon thief: a smooth operator and sneak thief who wants to get rich off the fabulous treasure that's being whispered about. Nicholomir is smuggling a jar of the dangerous and illegal Red Honey drug.
  • Claartje Gerritsen - Ranstead brawler: Claartje is here to break heads and hearts. She's muscle with a dangerous secret: nine months ago, she signed an old blacksmith's contract to get a knife that can cut through anything. (Sadly not explored in-game.) In return, she has to find 100 idiots to sign over their soul to the blacksmith for a year, or she'll have to serve for eternity.
  • Mark Brandzaam - Ranstead artillerist: an ex-miner looking for MOAR CANNONS. Has a huge arquebus and packs of gunpowder to play with. Mark is secretly working to get back into the Ranstead's good graces and wants valuable information on piracy in the region.
  • Fakse Zandbergen - head of the Wexlish/Ranstead Crew: Fakse is a gambling addict (and secretly a spy for the Ranstead) who leads an oafish group of 12 Ranstead religious separatists. This mass of buffoons acts as one regular character, sharing hit points, inventory etc.


As the quartermaster sets out ship rules to the new crew, captain Traneuille confides in his new ship's doctor Fiorest Gump: "it's not just gold we're going for, doctor - there's far more interesting finds in these waters! See this map? It belonged to the great pirate Jonas Booth. They say he owned a devil's toy, the Casket of Ys - with that casket, he was everywhere and nowhere at once. And I know where to find his stash."

The map indeed shows a small island off the main Merabaha islands and a riddle besides it. The captain even proudly presents Jonas Booth's own pet monkey as a sign of good fortune. The little flea bag screeches, too late, as a small serving boy snatches Traneuille's map and makes a run for it. At the same time, constables and customs men with muskets kick in the door!

Shenanigans ensue as the characters try to escape. Nicholomir escapes via the roofs, others play drunkard or claim to be the bouncer who's taking a pirate to jail. Half of The Crew get taken to jail; the wonders of this class mean that the rest can just leave them behind and keep on adventuring. After running away from the Lusty Limpet, Fakse needs to feed his gambling addiction. He manages to scrounge some silver off a pair of cargo haulers by using his deck of marked cards.

The complete and true map of the pirate Jonas Booth - archipelago and settlements by Skerples, this layout and Booth's island (top right) by me 


Eventually everyone makes their way to La Belle Poule. Captain Traneuille and his gang turn out to be a wonderful distraction, chased as they are in the background through market squares, church processions and a pig sty; the merry band makes it to the docks, customs guards in hot pursuit.

While La Poule is already casting off, Fiorest and Nicholomir spot the map-stealing serving boy peering out of an alley and run over. Nicholomir almost manages to knock the kid out, and then it's just a snick of doctor Fiorest's trusty scalpel before the wadded-up map is theirs again. Claartje tosses a rope and hauls the pair aboard. The ship heads out to sea.

Quartermaster Silas Winch is first at the scene to chew them out for being late. His eyes bulge when Fiorest waves the map in his face - "results, dear man!" No-one notices that the quartermaster swaps one wadded up map for another, more basic one. The captain is unperturbed; he knows the riddle and location by heart.

The characters are told to go asleep and take the day shift. Hours later, they wake to gunpowder and swordplay: a mutiny! Silas has the true map of Jonas Booth and is taking control of La Belle Poule. Half the crew and officers are behind him. Captain Traneuille is shot in the chest, the player characters are thrown in a longboat with him and his sketchy monkey, and they watch helplessly as La Belle Poule sails away.

It's about this time that the first scientists from the physics x-mas party across the hall wander in; apparantly the x-mas tree in the astronomy wing is a site to behold and needs to be photographed. They seem surprised at finding a roleplaying game in progress at the coffee table. We smile, wave and roll more dice.


Now what? The captain is dying and there's no food aboard. While the group discusses if they should eat the monkey - or the captain - the group discovers a tattoo below the luxurious fur of the beast. Drugging it with Fiorist's etheric vapours, Nicholomir shaves the poor animal. He discovers a map to the unnamed isle of Jonas Booth, with four lines of verse that seem to spell out a way to find the captain's treasure:

Follow the maiden's turnings three
Where Matthew met a sudden drop
Follow the stream till swimmer's stop
Thrice hold your breath and come to me

New map in hand, Claartje manages to find a bottle of rum hidden in the longboat. This is promptly used to sedate the captain while Fiorest does his best to stabilize the man. A few days of haphazard navigating leads the crew to The Wrecks, a shantytown of stranded sailors who hide from law and taxes in the shadow of Shipkiller Rock.

Bargains are made for food and other supplies, and Claartje builds up capital by going toe to toe with the Wrecks' best in their makeshift fighting ring. She wins enough favor and silver to resupply the group's longboat, buy a war canoe and sign on some new crew.

Literally sign, that is, as she whips out a little booklet and has each new crewmember sign their name under a contract to The Old Blacksmith. Five more souls for hell! The rest of the players seem quite perturbed at this little cult being formed under their noses.

Nicholomir, after some dealmaking with shady characters, turns up with a big wheel of cheese and concentrated rat poison.

It's at this point that Fiorist's player starts to gun for the Nicholomir; trying to poison the cheese or steal it. I could've nixed that - seems to be an out-of-game thing between the two that's being brought into the game - but the pair seem ok with it and it's not really disruptive. I'll regret that later on.


There's a brief debate about where to go next. Retake La Belle Poule, ignore those bastards and win Jonas Booth's treasure, or set out into the unknown? An old sailor tells Mark and Nicholomir of a place where you can get a proper boat. Siren's Point, he sketches in the sand, is just a day's sailing away. The name is foreboding, and the offer is politely declined.

It's time to end those bastard mutineers.

On the way to Booth's island is the Wretched Reef - La Belle Poule would have had to go around it, but the players' smaller longboat might just slip across. And it does, although the group sails into a dreadful storm that sets the crews on edge and makes morale plummet.

Two more days of sailing, and there's landsign: clouds and birds on the horizon, then a dark strip of island and the profile of a familiar ship. Planning time, while Mark starts making makeshift bomme's to throw.

Doctor Fiorist whips out his wonky spy gas and, drug vapours leaking in his face, makes out an undercrewed La Belle Poule. The rowing boat is headed to the island, and the ship is ripe for the picking. Making sure to stay out of the arc of it's prow cannon, our pirates slip close, ...

(We interrupt the game for a minute to chat with a not-too-sober physicist from across the hall, who explains that there's beer left and would we like to come over? Tempting, but the dice beckon. We game on.)

..., and then make a mad dash to get in boarding range of La Belle Poule before they're spotted. Wondrous stealth checks by the players and lousy spot checks by the lookout combine with a disastrous sailing check by Fakse's crew. It seems that "more sail" is a maneuvre his crew knows by heart, while "brake, brake, for gods' sake we'll smash right into it" was only in the advanced class.

We slip into bullet time as the longboat smashes into the side of La Belle Poule at break-neck speed. Fiorist, Fakse and Claartje all manage to jump for a rope; Mark takes a bit more time to clamber up, and Nicholomir discus-throws his wheel of cheese into one of the enemy pirates.

A big fight flares up on deck! There's gunplay, furious stabbing, rope-swinging and vein-cutting (that sawbones class is a killer) before most of the mutineers lie on the ground.


Only the guy in the crow's nest is left. As he takes pot shots at the group below, Fiorist lays into Nicholomir with his scalpel. We ask why, and get a spiel about the secret mission I gave (inquisitor) - now, Nicholomir definitely has shady things going on, but he's not demon spawn. It turns out to be a rivalry over a game of chess finding its way into the game - almost all players are new to roleplaying, so they don't automatically . Both Nicholomir and Fiorist kick the bucket.

I could've paused the game here - and should have, in hindsight - but it's getting late and a full run of the island would easily take another hour, so I let the fight play out, then wrap up the game.

There's winding paths on the island, riddles to be solved and even a little dungeon to explore. At the end of it all is the secret treasure of Captain Jonas Booth. A casket of ivory and ebony, just big enough to fit a man inside. Crawl in, and your shadow duplicate steps out for a couple of hours. You can ride them from inside the casket, or make a deal and both go on your way. A wondrous treasure for the right buyer - or the group themselves.

Update: Because we didn't explore Booth's tomb, we didn't get to the part where the players have to crack a safe to get to the treasure. The prize would've been Booth's casket, but also one free reroll in the next game for everyone who managed to make it to the end.

Safe by Ugears


A nice evening's worth of play with lots of piratical tropes; players had fun, I had fun, and I got to field test my Jar of Dirt system (needs work ;). I'm still happy with my idea to introduce the players via a flashback, then work back to the 'present' of the opening scen. Good way to set the mood, although I could've kept this tighter - it spiralled into over an hour of finding tavern, spotting guards, introductions, theft and escape and finding map and casting off and mutiny.

My three resolutions for the next game:

  1. spend less time on character introduction;
  2. perhaps don't give out secret missions that can derail play, or prove hard to impossible to achieve;
  3. most importantly: explain at the start of play that I won't allow out-of-character beef at the table. What happened wasn't vicious or agressive, but it did come out of nowhere and dragged out scenes so that we couldn't make it to the "planned" end of the adventure in one go.

Friday 20 December 2019

Belswick 11: and then there were none

Last time in Belswick, the group dug into an underground complex to save their buddy Mike from demonic possession. This session, they discover there's worlds of weirdness down below.

Excerpt from the travel logbook of the Nobledwarf Shams Metalgrog

Rumours of impending surface war slither down the tunnels. This threatens our trade routes and so finding a safe new route is the most honourable task bestowed upon me. We set out with nine in our party and the first leg of the journey was without incident.

The difficulty started when we reached some badly built corridors, no real craftdwarfship went into it and that showed. The first two dwarfs were lost to the collapse of such a wretched passage. We will have to pay the families of LiliHammer and DaisyStomper. Their loss is mourned.

The further east we went the greater our loss. Axl Ferrose and Kevin were pulled into the heights by sticky threads, and LotusKnocker and CactusSipper disappeared into the dark after a loud growling suddenly was heard close by.

Also lost to us was Dan Delying, sage and holder of the list of goods and requirements. His disappearing while away for a pee break was awkward. The smell in the area he disappeared from was slightly mouldy and I am sure the little mushrooms that were growing in the corners were not there before. Now only I and my retainer Nicolas are left to carry on.

Mummy can we go to the library

The uncertainty about the lives of our party eats at me, but we have to finish our task. Hopefully along the way we will be able to strike beneficial agreements to reach our goal and get our compatriots back. We have moved slightly quicker these last hours, but we have finally a need to rest a bit. We reach a room that looked like it was once a library. It will suit our purpose.

The library looks extensive. It appears made for giants, or parts of it do. Perhaps magic caused part of the site to grow, or shrink. There are bustes of some famous sage and murals of how this wise one tracked and trapped a priest who stole the secrets of heaven (good, the texts indicate) and went mad with the power (useful, but best kept until a time of the snakefolk's choosing. Hency, many experiments to bind and capture this Umtak Ktharl.) Mummies of ancient snakefolk are busying themselves with the restoration of books. They leave us alone as long as we are quiet.

Quick sketch of the area by Franky the dungeon bug / dungeon merchant.

We meet one called Anthony - greenish eyes, claw-like nails, grayed skin, smells like dead meat, is looking for his buddies. He eyes us in the light of our candle. A fragile compact, that could be broken by the least of incidents. His gaze is feral and hungry. I do not trust him. Before we can put this delicate balance to the test, Nicholas hears the sound of voices on the other side of a gigantic door. Anthony flees down natural tunnels through a crack in the walls. I do not believe I have seen the last of him.

Shams is a new character played by my wife; she's meeting up with the rest of the group who are trying to find their runaway druid buddy Mike. Said druid has been temporarily taken over by the devil Buddy after making a deal to return the party back to life. Buddy has let slip that he's on earth to "deal with a priest."

This underground site of the Du'van snakefolk is based on Dyson's Frog Reliquary map. I've increased the scale so that every map square is 100x100 feet, and added colour to show factions' span of control. Underground dungeon time is strange, my players have discovered. Here time flows faster than above, and space has increased. Time for a new ecosystem to pop up: sentient fungi, enormous spiders and giant lizards now fight the undead in the side areas for living space. These side spaces are quite dangerous and heavy in loot, but the party seems to be uninterested so far.

The enemy of my enemies

The party that crawls under the giant door are the first people here that don’t immediately want to kill me and mine. They are also looking for a member of their party, a weird and evil rat type creature. The group consists of:
  • A Priest of the Authority - a hint of unctious cleric and a voice that seems trained to project like a bard. He does not heal and does not inspire.
  • A tall shark man - smells like he might cause trouble, though not clear for whom. He keeps griping about his time running out, wanting an amulet off the priest and needing to return underwater to complete his transformation.
  • An elf - what more needs to be said.
(Absent due to flu: Guy the wizard, Mike&Sydney the druid&sorceror. Mike/Sydney's player will skype in later in the evening to join part of the spider combat - having a player join via cybertube is a first for us!)

Information in the library

The giant map on the library wall shows clearly that this abomination of a structure is somehow connected to the ancient dwarf tunnels that criss-cross the Snake Mountains. The collapsed tunnels we encountered were clearly were this obscenity of a complex had encroached upon the great dwarven roads. I blame myself for not seeing this sooner. 

Stylized Du'van map of what seems to be the Belswick area. It shows mountains and bodies of water, as well as the resting places of six great leaders of the snake people. (XIXIMANTER is from Tomb of the Serpent Kings; CYRIS MAXIMUS, from Death Frost Doom; Umtak Ktharl, from a short Johannes Cabal story. The rest are my own wriggly little brain childer.)

We join forces to find those we have lost. Delving in to the fungal growth we find "heyheyhey it's your boy Franky!" an enormous cockroach (I will not judge upon his form) with all the information and all the greatest deals. Have engaged him in friendly trade. If any trade route is to run through here he will come in very handy.

Communication with this creature was interesting and disconcerting, as it appears to happen telepathically through the spores I have inhaled from a small mushroom in his pouch. Long term effect will have to be assessed.

Frankieboy has agreed to take us to the nearest dwarf that is still alive through the safest route. This was only partially correct. Our party ran into a floating tentacled fungal sac. It was slain by the shark man, but not before I was struck by its tentacles. Verily these caves contain things I was not prepared for. Luckily my traveling armor proved up to the task. For a next venture I might need to bring the full set. Our roach friend reappeared after the battle was done and continued guiding us to the throne room of the Shroomian Queendom.

Fun guys

(To paint a picture: a large chamber with mood lighting fungal growths, all kinds of mushroom people scattered throughout the area. A lot of spores in the air and the denizens seem to be tripping balls. On a large and slightly squelchy throne the queen is seated. She speaks in the voice of a true Californian valley girl. The DM had so much fun faking that vocal fry and wants nothing more than to leave this NPC behind. We chat her up for the better part of fifteen minutes before we leave.)

Ordinarily I do an NPC's first few lines 'in character', then drop to my normal voice. We've been watching a lot of Critical Role, so I thought it could be worth the effort to stay in-character for some NPCs. Frankie was easy to run, Her Shroominess decidedly less so. You try to do a disinterested valley girl with thick vocal fry in Dutch.)


Her Mouldiness was mostly interested in keeping the mellow going. Anyone that was found to be, as she said, harshing the buzz was declared fungi (or persona) no grata. At this moment I was incredibly appreciative for those dreary formal lessons in etiquette. It allowed me to immediately grasp the important things that drive this strange society. Drug use is not something we embrace in the halls, but this community seems to depend on it.

We encounter here two of my party I had thought lost - and have decided to write off again. LiliHammer and DaisyStomper shamble towards us, fungal growths streaming from their mouth, nose and ears. They fell and were, like, made use of, as the shroomians explain in their woozy mind speach.

My sage was seated near the queen, and considering his harshing influence the queen was more than happy to give him back to us. No trade with this Fungination will be forthcoming, they appear to not want for anything. Not sure if this will change in the future. However I have negotiated the beginnings of an understanding and safe passage will be granted us, which includes one of the queen’s citizens as our guide. This large Shroomian will bring us to the ‘creepies’ above that we have promised to take care of in our agreement with the queen. I have hope that two of my compatriots will be found here.

Party in the web

The spider lair comes into view with the familiar detritus of webs and remains. A few cocoons are visible on the ground, I pray to find two dwarves alive in there. Right before we enter the lair my new friends are joined by one of their party. Sydney - a dragonborn who is not all flash, but he is better off keeping it in his robes.

The battle was long and harsh, but the spiders were scattered and defeated. Dan proved his sageness by throwing firebolts. The shark man’s rage burns and makes for good spider barbecue. The cleric shows great proficiency in scaring spiders and I have seen him split a ghostly spider from its soul, killing it effectively.

The highlight of this battle was performed by Sydney, as he struck killing blow to the spider queen in the form of a heart-shaped orb. He appears to want to woo me. His priorities will need to be righted soon. In a strange turn of magic events, which I do not claim to comprehend at all, the dragon-born, transformed temporarily into a potted plant. He was tended to by members of his party (though the cleric does not attempt to heal him, this is strange), and my immediate goal was to get to the big cocoons scattered around the area and find my brothers. Axl Ferrose was in the first of the cocoons, he was understandably angry. I’m sad to say that Kevin did not make it, I found his lifeless body in one of the other cocoons. We will need to compensate his family for this loss.

Our end of the bargain upheld, we returned to the Shroomian queen. She was less than pleased to once again have our harsh personages in her space, but was happy to be rid of the spiders for now. Our Shroomian guide is ordered to the swamp to relax - apparently his proximity to our harshness has rubbed off on it. And he is to take us with him. The swamp supposedly has two more of my brothers, and is closer to the Great Prison that seems to have been the destination of the druid Mike.

I do not know what the next days will bring, but I have hopes that with my new friends I can get through them. I still have hopes of finding a safe trade route, though there are a significant number of unpredictable parties in these tunnels. 


  • sturdy grey woolen cloak with flame sigils in golden thread, resist fire: 700gp
  • silver cup 60gp
  • pouch of ancient coins 80gp
  • key stones with snakes on them (hexagon with elven number 8, triangle with elven number 7. Tilbord the priest and Lomin the Elf seem perturbed - didn't the snakefolk predate the Elves?)

It bears repeating: all the stuff found in this dungeon is the rightful property of the lord on whose land the group is trespassing. Which means that barring smooth talking or stealthy passage, they won't get to keep any of this without trouble of some kind. Taxes, weregild, a declaration of poaching - it's all in the cards.

If the band ever makes it to the surface again, that is. I feel the Veins opening up beneath this dungeon complex.

Monday 16 December 2019

Ship combat cheat sheet

It's been very quiet here, because my IRL gaming has perked up significantly with a second group. I blame Critical Role - one of my players got my wife hooked on them and now she's wrangled a bunch of colleagues into trying out some oneshots.

Right now I'm prepping a pirate adventure for Thursday evening, and found myself in need of a ship combat cheat sheet. Ruleset is my own Jar of Dirt, pirated from Skerples' original. Print out these sheets on A4 (ship) and A3 (manoeuvres) and have at it!


Friday 22 November 2019

Belswick 10 - Lomin's diary

This session report brought to you by the player behind super trustworthy elf-of-many-talents Lomin Mor -  thanks for the write-up!

Last session in Belswick, the party returned from the dead and raided the tower of asshole wizard Vedric von Vermis after killing him in a bath house. The cost to breathe again? Mike the druid agreed to loan his body to Buddy the devil for five weeks. This session, the party first bickers about what to do - save Mike or do a delivery quest for the group's sharkling barbarian? In the end they decide to deal with their possessed buddy first, then deal with the fish's issues afterward.


150 gp worth of grave goods
a scrying basin, value 250 gp


session log
Lomin's diary
DM's notes
spoilers [ highlight to reveal ]


  • Tilbørd, human Priest of The Authority who likes to make deals. Loads of them. And he likes to learn. Everything.
  • Lomin Mor, an elf rogue who is as shady as they come. Masquerades as lady Olga of nearby Cullfield to run her estate, and always “finds” things to keep. Also keeps a masterful diary which will no doubt spin off into a lucrative book deal at some point.
  • Mike, a human druid/fighter with the grand wish of starting a big animal sanctuary. Currently time-sharing his body with a devil, so Mike's player rolled up...
  • Sydney, a green dragonling sorceror who traveled the world and is now looking for... Mike/Sydney's player absolutely worships chaos, and jumped at the chance to roll his stats with the DMs new d18. Intelligence 1? No problem!
  • Aju, a hammerhead shark-fishling of the barbarian persuasion, looking for a magic amulet so an underseas wizard can complete turning him from a shark into a human. Not really sure what consequences will be should his allotted time of 1 year to retrieve the amulet run out.
  • Guy, human diviner with a crippling 10,000 gp college debt to the Lodge of Augurs and Diviners. Does all kind of jobs for the local lord and his mentor Fergus in order to lessen said debt (absentee player)

The party, having returned from Vedric’s wizard tower carrying loads of goods, takes some time off to make sure a certain marriage happens. They assure the Lady Liselle that she will not be hunted anymore by presenting her with the wizard Vedric’s head on a silver platter, and then get to unloading said goods, making sure they get as much cash out of this raid as possible.

Gold is XP, after all, and one always needs more XP.

Furthermore, the deal Mike made with a certain demon named Buddy seems to have taken effect, which means Mike is no longer in the driver’s seat as to controlling his own body. He goes missing. The rest of the party decide to follow their friend hoping they can at least keep him out of some lord’s dungeon.

Mike and the party know that Buddy is here to "do something to a priest". [ Classic devil double-speak. Buddy is going after the tomb of the Du'van priest Umtak Ktharl, who is freeing himself from his bindings after a recent earthquake. Devils are basically black-ops angels in my setting, and Buddy wants to make sure the Burglar of Heaven's Library doesn't get free. But Umtak isn't the only priest that Buddy is gunning for: he hopes to tempt party priest Tilbord into trying to free Umtak Ktharl. ] The secrets he could learn... [ Tempted to highlight this spoiler yet, R? ;) ]

Which leads them right into a dungeon...


The party was busy doing all sorts of stuff upon their return. One of these things was convincing everyone they were indeed alive.

Tilbørd found himself replaced by one of the mercs he brought back from the Witmarrow swamp. Father Eustace is training him military style. There must be something more in the past of that priest than reading books! Tilly is dumbfounded. But explains he really isn’t dead, yes that burial was a bit premature and of course, he’d like to continue his apprenticeship.

Aju has found that Tilly has the amulet he has so desperately been hunting for. He seeks to bargain with Tilly for its possession.

Mike is acting stranger and stranger. And is seen less and less. He finds he is lapsing, sometimes missing an hour, sometimes a day. It seems Buddy, the demon he struck a deal with, is emerging more and more frequently.

Mike made a deal to loan his body to Buddy the devil for five weeks, but didn't specify that they had to be consecutive. The devil is stealing hours here and there. I describe Mike as feeling haggard, as if he's holding down a second job at night. There's unexplained footprints in his house, burned letters in the hearth and a sense of slipping and going under. Time to introduce his back-up character.

Lomin Mor has visited Cullfield and sold off most of Vedric’s possessions. The deal with Vennax’s son takes the cake!

From The Diary of Lomin Mor
It has taken forever to find a decent buyer for some of the stuff we’ve looted. Luckily I was recently approached by a servant of a rich noble who had heard I had some interesting wares. After an appointment was made I found myself within the presence of none other than Lord Vennax’s son!

This was too good an opportunity to let pass. He was most interested in some of the art pieces I was selling, commenting they looked very familiar to him, and most pleasing to his eye. I remarked that I had come upon them through a recent passing, where the family had asked me to mediate.

He inquired further into this and offered the sum of 1250 gold for the lot. I knew their worth to be about a 1000, so I was tempted, but decided on a bit of a gambit. I remarked another noble had already offered 1800 gold, but should he be able to pay in cash right this moment the sum of 1500 gold, I would not only let him have the desired pieces, but also give him the information as to where the pieces had come from. He agreed, and after having received his money, it was most satisfying to inform him of the death of his father’s henchman Vedric which also meant he was essentially buying his father’s goods. Oh, the look on that boy’s face!

It did seem wise to quickly take my leave thereafter...

Guy has contacted his mentor, and although there is initial disbelief, has convinced him that he is indeed still alive.

One day a travelling fair hits town. Amongst the arrivals is the bard Mireille, who has learned of our party and is most interested in their exploits. But before anything substantial can happen, our party is beset by a dragonling, introducing himself as Sydney, zookeeper in the employ of Mike. Mike has gone missing. Knowing what they know, demon possession and all that, the party decide to follow their comrade. (Aju not very willing, as he is aching to complete his own quest). Sydney the Dragonling goes with them, loyal as he is to Mike. Although he does first try to make woopie with the barmaid. Guy very much wishes to go but has other duties.

As is right and proper, a replacement NPC for 1-2 sessions gets to be played a bit larger than life. Sydney is a dragonling and a sorcerer, a race/class that were banned before but that are opened up to the group as of now. 

Mike/Sydney's player is absolutely chewing the scenery and relishing that 1 point of Intelligence: he constantly forgets names, trips at the simplest leaps of logic and is always, always looking for another squeeze. It's lovely to see him change the dynamic of the group that way.

From the diary of Lomin Mor:
A most weird creature approached us. He most resembled a dragon, although he possessed hands and feet like all of us, he was huge and his head was a strange glistening orange looking colour. I could see Tilbørd and Guy exchanging a glance, as though they’d very much like to dissect the poor  creature right here on the spot. We were surprised when the being began to speak. Apparently our friend Mike had hired him as zookeeper. And now Mike had gone missing. I immediately decided to join this creature who introduced himself as Sydney. That seems only right.

Mike had recently sprouted thorny bracelets after a sleepwalking visit to his mentor Litvars the Goblin Prince, and the party quickly spot some thorns left behind on the path, which gives them some idea in what direction their friend has gone. They follow the trail thus set for them.

[ How does the party track a demon in a druid's body through the wilderness? I've laid down a trail of bread crumbs for the group to follow. Buddy may have made a deal with Mike's mentor Litvars for a new magic item, but it seems Mike still has some control over whether he leaves tracks or not. Buddy doesn't mind, in fact he wants to lure along Tilbord and companions! ]


Following Mike’s trail leads our party into another duchy. Here they encounter a rather cranky hunter. He complains of lack of sleep and assumes our party is lost, off the beaten track as they are. Upon questioning he has seen someone resembling their friend. This person goes by the name of Mihael. Lomin can’t help but ask if this person was an elf. (Lomin had a bookish brother named thus). But no, it appears to be Mike indeed. And it looks like he has gone in the direction of the nearby village.

From the diary of Lomin Mor:
When we met a hunter following the trail of thorns, his reaction upon seeing us brought  home the strangeness of our party. Tilbørd is our only human. A big man with a shark’s head such as Aju is weird, a huge man with a dragon’s head such as Sydney is even weirder. A magnificent elf such as I isn’t a sight they see daily here either.

On the way, there is a monastery, which of course has to be visited - Tilbørd insists.

The group are welcomed most heartily and the inquiring Tilbørd is given a lot of information by a priest called Alwin. It appears a recent quake has unearthed parts of an ancient tomb. Ever since the quake the people of the nearby town have been sleeping a lot worse and have been in a bad mood in general. Alwin has been performing extra rites at the old temple in the vicinity in order to quiet the restless spirits within.

Next stop, said village.

The locals are indeed a dour bunch. But at the local inn, Sydney quickly befriends a female dwarf, Merle. The dwarf likes a bit of drink as does our dragonling. In fact, her drinking holds a clue. While her daily alcohol intake is pretty massive, water doesn’t pass her lips. Could that be why she isn’t affected by the foul mood which has taken hold on the rest of the village?

Tilbørd uses magic to investigate, Sydney and Merle have it on, the rest sleeps.


And yes, it turns out the water in the village brook is befouled by some kind of magic. In fact, it's turned unholy. Our party follows the stream back to its source. Surprise, surprise, it leads to the ancient temple. They search for the main entrance which Lomin opens easily. And in they go...

From the diary of Lomin Mor
I opened the gate of the main entrance. There was a hallway with an alcove. Inside a Du’van mummy!
Think bog mummy. Unanimated, by the way. There's some grave goods to be found but the party ignores the dead in their alcoves.
We encountered this strange race before, the snakelike people had a really large complex in the vicinity of Cullfield. More alcoves with more mummies followed. Another locked door was no problem for my skill. This time we discovered a statue of an ancient Du’van.
Another hallway, with more alcoves and more mummies. The trapped door at the end we recognized as the same type of  trap we encountered in the other complex. If triggered a massive hammer smashes down from the ceiling, which is not good news if you are standing between it and the door. I took some pitons from my pack and with aju’s help tried to bolt the hammer mechanism down. After I was satisfied, Aju opened the door. We managed to get in before the hammer came down. Job well done. Again. Without me they’d never get anywhere.

More doors, hallways, alcoves and mummies. Finally our party find a secret door. Behind this door, a cracked basin with runes reading something like purity and cleansing. It is cracked and water is leaking away. The source of what is happening in the village!?

There is a crack in the wall which leads to another room. While Tilbørd is investigating the water Sydney decides to pass through the crack. And is instantly attacked.

The water is not holy or unholy, but very pure, Tilbord discovers: it washes away magic as long as you're wet.
[ And as long as the water itself is untainted. This will become quite important next session. ]

Inside the room three dessicated snakelings turn their attention to Sydney, as does as a huge skeleton of the snake person persuasion. There are also 2 sarcophaguses and movement can be heard from within.

Sydney teleports away, an undead weapon hits nothing but air, and the sorcerer appears again on top of one of the sarcophagi. Aju rushes in, enraged and eager to fight. He hits hard, wounding one of the zombies severely and lighting up his destructive aura which deals some fire damage to everyone near him. Lomin sneaks in. Tilbørd is fascinated with the cleansing properties of the water and starts washing himself with it, ignoring the fight in the other room.

From the diary of Lomin Mor
That damn priest can be totally useless sometimes! As the sound of fighting came through the crack in the wall all he did was mumble and start sprinkling water over himself. I could almost see his holy power waning. I decided I had seen enough and carefully slid through the opening in the wall. First thing I saw was Aju wielding his enormous axe and hitting a zombie Du’van, his strike shoving it my way. I did not hesitate and plunged my dagger in its rotting flesh. It died instantly.

The sarcophagus Sydney isn’t standing on bursts open and a zombielike king charges Sydney, using a fear spell.

This frightens Aju, but Sydney is not impressed. “Is that supposed to scare me? You clearly haven’t met my mother!”, he says. The sorcerer throws a chromatic orb towards the king and utterly incinerates him. Woosh. And gone.

Meanwhile the large skeleton makes his way to Lomin, hitting him hard. Aju is having some problems with the 2 zombies, but manages to kill one. His fiery aura hurts the rest as well.
Lomin decides to hit back. And run. (He doesn't provoke attacks of opportunity, a nice class ability) Lomin gets back to Tilbørd on the other side of the wall. Tilbørd has been washing himself this whole time. And now none of his powers work anymore. But he is very clean, also worth something...

Tilbørd chats with the mummies in Du'van and is slowly getting somewhere: the mummies seem to be playing the part of a Du'van king and queen, but they're also waiting for command words to unlock the deeper tomb where a Great Thief is being held. Alas, Tilly doesn't know the name of this prisoner, and so the fight goes on. (The party's random walk managed to miss all the rooms in the Tomb of the Serpent Kings where they could have discovered this info!)

Meanwhile the last zombie dies and Aju decides to grapple the skeleton. He tries to shove him in the open sarcophagus of the late zombie king. Sydney jumps off the closed sarcophagus, gets hit by Aju’s fire damage. He tries to use a poison spell, to no avail.

Lomin  sneaks back in, stabbing the skeleton and kicking its sword out of the way. Sarcophagus number 2 bursts open, a zombie queen appears. Meanwhile Aju manages to wrestle the raging snakeling skeleton into the first sarcophagus, closing it and jumping on top of the lid. His weight is enough to keep it closed.

From the diary of Lomin Mor:
It was utter chaos. I decided to draw my bow and shoot the zombie queen. She exploded in a shower of fire. Once more I saved the day! All the undead were now truly dead. The queen was no more than a faint outline on the outer wall and upon closer inspection, I discovered a door there. This foray was not yet over.

In reality, as Lomin shot his arrow, Sydney launched yet another chromatic orb. This obliterated the zombie queen, just as Tilbørd came in with a lot of magic dampening water to throw. A nice thought, as things were indeed on fire. And from within the sarcophagus, enraged thumping shook the lid and Ajo atop of it. The decision was made to fill the sarcophagus containing the skeleton with the magic dampening water. This worked, as the skeleton first grew drousy and then no longer moved or showed any sign of (un)life.

The "king and queen" were actual mummies. The fear spell that Lomin mentions above is a dread gaze, but the rightly feared rotting touch doesn't come into play because Sydney takes action. Supporting the two mummies are a bunch of reskinned Gnoll witherlings and a minotaur skeleton, downgraded a bit. The party hits upon the mummies' vulnerability to fire, but don't think to switch to bludgeoning weapons against the raging skeleton. That means the fight starts to drag on: a raging barbarian halves all incoming nonmagical damage, and his axe's damage to the skeleton is halved as well. Luckily Aju's player thinks to switch tactics and wrestles the big brute into one of the open sarcophagi!

We decided this was a good moment to call it a day, and ended the session with scrapes and burns. Next time: into the depths!

Monday 11 November 2019

Hands of Glory, Tree of Glory

I think I originally found the idea of a candelabra of Hands of Glory at Ancient Vaults and Eldritch Secrets. Decided to expand on that idea: what if the Hands to be used belonged to the first criminals, each Hand had its own specific powers, and collecting them would boost these items even further?

The Hand of Glory from folklore is already a gruesome magic item in its own right. Take a hanged murderer's hand, render the fat and use that to turn the fingers into candles; when lit, no sleepers in a house you enter with a lit Hand of Glory can wake up. Other versions turn the bearer invisible, or can open any door, or only shed light for the wielder.

In comparison, the Hand of Glory in base D&D is very tame. Wear an extra magic ring, cast a light spell and see the invisible. We can do better. Statted for D&D 5e, but easy enough to alter.


Hollow Tree necromancers tell tall tales about the powers of the Tree. A cold iron frame hammered into the shape of a twisted, leafless tree, nine feet tall and weighing 900 lbs (25 inventory slots / strength points' worth). The branches and parts of the trunk are shaped like ash, oak, sandal, redbud and thorn apple. Other branches and knots in the trunk correspond to unidentified, maybe even extinct species. Seven fat branches drip down to form hooks where something may be hung from.

Writing in encrypted Du'van is chiseled and etched into the bark. Powerful divination spells like Divination, Legend Lore, Commune or Contact other Plane will reveal the information below. A simple Comprehend Languages spell turns the Du'van script into text in an alphabet that the caster can read, but the meaning stays encrypted. Decyphering the text would take an immense dedicated library.

Tree Design Metal Wall Hanging,Tree of Life, Metal Art of Haiti, Haitian Steel Drum Art - 34" x 34"

The Tree of Glory was created by Du'vanku corpse wizards before their civilization decided to lay siege to Heaven. The artifact has seven mounts that fit the original Seven Hands of Glory (below) and enhances the effect of these lugubrious items. Seven people may attune to the Tree at the same time via the rite to find an unclaimed Hand (below). The artifact may be torn apart by seven people of pure heart, each having fit one of the seven Hands as a prosthetic.

At the time of writing, the Tree of Glory is being investigated by the Order of the Eye, a minor and unofficial offshoot of the Gustavinian Order of secrets. The group does not have access to the divination spells needed to decrypt the instructions on the trunk.

Finding the Seven Hands

The possessor of the Tree of Glory can perform a scrying ritual to find the approximate location of the seven original Hands of Glory. The ritual requires killing an innocent and hanging them on the tree under the new moon.

At the moment of death, the hanged one turns to face the nearest Hand not currently hanging from the Tree and swings outwards in that direction. The ritual reveals a compass direction (up to 3rd order, such as NNW), and a distance in miles. If the nearest Hand is within a mile of the Tree, the distance is instead conveyed in 100 yard increments.

Carved burial tree from near Dubbo, New South Wales (from)

Lighting the Seven

Successfully mounting one or more of the original Seven Hands on the Tree and lighting them takes 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13 days per Hand lit. Once lit, the artifact produces the following effects. The Tree of Glory was  originally pulled down before more than three Hands could be lit; the effect of such an event is unknown - take lines 4 and below as speculation.
  1. Keep any sleepers in a mansion or castle asleep
  2. Keep any sleepers in a town asleep
  3. Put everyone in a barony to sleep
  4. Put everyone in a duchy to sleep? Open all locks in the area?
  5. Put everyone in the kingdom to sleep? Cause the Tree to grow to Heaven? Turn users into angels or demons?
  6. Put everyone in the world to sleep? Cause the tree's roots to buckle Heaven's gates? Briefly stop time?
  7. Put the Authority and his Angels to sleep? Rewind time?

By Shayne of the Dead - from

Each of the seven original Hands of Glory has the following powers, in addition to unique powers listed below:
  • requires attunement to function
  • gives off light like a hooded lantern while lit (lighting takes five rounds, one action per finger lit)
  • keeps any sleepers in a home asleep while lit (2-3 rooms, like a cottage or small house)
  • burns until extinguished by the user, until doused in fresh milk, or until dawn
  • can be fit as a prosthetic (either side - will gruesomely break and reverse itself) for someone missing a hand

Individual Hands and their powers

  • "owner": power always works when the Hand is on the owner's person
  • "user": power only works when the Hand is lit. Most are marked *
  • "prosthetic": requires fitting the Hand in place of one of their own, or mounting it on the Tree of Glory. Save Difficulty to resist all its effects becomes 17.
* costs an action and extinguishes one of the Hand's five lit fingers. The user does not need to maintain concentration, the Hand does this for them until fully doused in fresh milk or at dawn.

There's a disturbing amount of tshirts with HoGs you can buy. Or baby onesies, if that's more your thing. From.

Hand of the Arsonist
Soot-stained and covered in burn scars
  • Owner can always start a fire
  • User can hurl a Fire Bolt (+5 attack, 3d10 fire) *
  • As a prosthetic, the owner can use Delayed Blast Fireball 1/week (DC 17)

Hand of the Backstabber
Shudders in sudden fits as if to jump at people unaware of its owner
  • The owner gains advantage on the first attack they make in a combat
  • Can let the user walk through one wall (as a ghost's Incorporeal Movement) *
  • As a prosthetic, the owner can snap his fingers to cast Power Word Stun 1/week (DC 17)

Hand of the Oathbreaker
Fingers appear broken, fingernails missing, skin full of burn marks
  • Creates light that only the user can see. This illuminates even a Darkness spell, but only for the user
  • Can turn the user invisible (as Invisibility) *
  • As a prosthetic, the owner can use Glibness 1/week

Hand of the Poisoner
Finger tips stained black, hand is pockmarked and partly eaten as if by acid
  • Owner can safely absorb and release one dose of liquid poison from the Hand's index finger
  • User can hurl Poison Spray (DC 15/17, 2d12) *
  • As a prosthetic, the owner can use Cloudkill 1/week (DC 17)

Hand of the Strangler
Stubby fingers, always twitching in little grabbing movements
  • A breathing target the owner is grappling with starts to choke (drops to 0 HP and receives a Fatal Wound after [Con bonus] rounds)
  • User can hold a viewer immobile (as Hold Monster, DC 15/17) *
  • As a prosthetic, the owner can use Finger of Death 1/week (DC 17)

Hand of the Thief
Delicate and supple, more like a bit of wax statue than a severed hand
  • Its light shows anything invisible (as See Invisibility)
  • User can open any lock that the Hand illuminates (as Knock, but silent) *
  • As a prosthetic, the owner can use Drawmij's Instant Summons 1/week, no material component needed

Hand of the Traitor
Branded on the palm with a coin featuring a ruler's face, fingers split with iron nails
  • Owner can command the Hand to disguise itself as an innocuous hand-shaped item like a wood carving, an amulet or a glove. Appears like a living hand when fitted as a prosthetic.
  • User can turn a viewer pliable and forgetful (as Charm Person or Suggestion, DC 15/17) *
  • As a prosthetic, the owner can use Dominate Monster 1/week (DC 17)