Wednesday, February 6, 2019

The Hârnic Sandbox: A Fortnightly Online Game

Illustration from a Speculum Virginum ("Mirror of Virgins"), c. 1200.
Source: Bibliotheca Augustana via Wikipedia Commons

What: A sandbox-style D&D game set in a loose adaptation of N. Robin Crossby's Hârn, a fantastical analog of medieval Britain. The system is Basic/Expert D&D (Moldvay/Cook & Marsh). It's FLAILSNAILS-friendly! Ideal for PCs of levels 1–4 in old-school systems.
When: Wednesday 13 February and every second week thereafter, 7–9 pm PST
Where: Roll20
Who: All are welcome — no experience necessary.
Why: ...
How to get started: Roll up a new B/X character (or use the character generator below — it's easy!) and sign up on Roll20 at the link above. (FLAILSNAILers: just bring a PC you'd like to play, bearing in mind the "handicap" table for high-level characters in low-level games. You may, or may not, also want to take into account the extent to which your PC might stand out or blend in while adventuring among the humans, dwarfs, and elfs of Hârn.)

B/X Essentials, a rationalized compilation of B/X rules by Gavin Norman
Labyrinth Lord, a B/X retroclone by Daniel Proctor (free no-art version)
Basic D&D random character generator by Ramanan Sivaranjan
The FLAILSNAILS conventions at Jeff's Gameblog
Hârn map and primer from Columbia Games (free)
Principia Apocrypha, a primer for "old-school" gaming

The Twenty Questions

  1. What is the deal with my cleric's religion?  There are ten major deities and hundreds of minor ones. The former run the typical thematic range from truth and virtue to chaos and death. Pick one!
  2. Where can we go to buy standard equipment?  Any of Hârn's cities or towns will have most standard items; remote rural villages will only have a limited range of goods.
  3. Where can we go to get platemail custom fitted for this monster I just befriended?  You could try any one of the eight walled towns but your best bet would be the Khuzdul (Dwarfish) capital, Azadmere. The Khuzdul know something about smithing.
  4. Who is the mightiest wizard in the land?  Check with the Shev-Pvar, or Guild of Arcane Lore; their chantries are scattered throughout the land, mostly in the towns. Whoever they are, there's a decent chance they're from the kingdom of Melderyn in the southeast — its nickname is the "Wizards' Isle."
  5. Who is the greatest warrior in the land?  It's always changing, of course, as the pool of candidates is constantly renewed due to frequent injuries and deaths. There are any number of famous knights gadding about, but there are also an unknown number of barbarian heroes that aren't really known outside their tribe. The Orbaalese petty kingdoms in the north produce a regular stream of Beowulf types.
  6. Who is the richest person in the land?  Difficult to say. The Thardic Republic in the west is a plutocracy that efficiently channels wealth to its ruling families; a lot of its senators are pretty loaded. On the other hand, some of the leading merchants from the kingdom of Melderyn do pretty well for themselves with trade to the nearby continent. And the city of Tashal in Kaldor is the hub of trade for the entire island.
  7. Where can we go to get some magical healing?  Ordinary folk rely on the Guild of Apothecaries and/or the Society of Physicians for help with ailments; special folks like yourselves may be able to get divine healing from a powerful cleric, assuming you are in good standing with one of the local churches. Maybe in return for a favour ...
  8. Where can we go to get cures for the following conditions: poison, disease, curse, level drain, lycanthropy, polymorph, alignment change, death, undeath?  Apothecaries and physicians might be able to help with poisoning and some kinds of diseases. For supernatural problems, the Guild of Arcane Lore is your best recourse. Death is not necessarily final, but the powerful magics required to reverse this state are not easy to access. You will have to pay dearly — and with more than mere gold.
  9. Is there a magic guild my MU belongs to or that I can join in order to get more spells?  Yeah, the Shek-Pvar or Guild of Arcane Lore. Wizards keep their secrets close, however; usually you need to find someone you trust to trade spells with. 
  10. Where can I find an alchemist, sage or other expert NPC?  Look in one of the eight walled towns. Across the water to the east, the continent Lythia has many marvellous cities teeming with all manner of talented professionals. Hârn is actually kind of backward compared to many of the Lythian civilizations.
  11. Where can I hire mercenaries?  Sellswords abound, mostly in the eight walled towns. You can find Viking types up north in Orbaal. Rare and exotic mercenaries from Lythia can also be found here and there, especially in Melderyn.
  12. Is there any place on the map where swords are illegal, magic is outlawed or any other notable hassles from Johnny Law?  In principle, wizards everywhere are regulated by the Guild of Arcane Lore, but in practice this mostly applies in the towns. Infractions are investigated by the guild but punishable by systems of royal justice, which typically deal harshly with the criminal use of magic. Everyone has heard of at least one tongueless or fingerless ex-wizard.
  13. Which way to the nearest tavern?  It's pseudo-medieval fantasyland Britain: taverns are everywhere, even if it's just a peasant hutch serving days-old ale.
  14. What monsters are terrorizing the countryside sufficiently that if I kill them I will become famous?  Have you heard about the Ivashu? They're monstrosities created by the god Ilvir that pop up unpredictably. Some are captured for use in gladiatorial arenas in Rethem and Tharda, but others rampage across the countryside and wreak considerable damage. (Many, however, are simply harmless unless provoked.)
  15. Are there any wars brewing I could go fight?  The kingdom of Rethem is famous for its bloody political intrigues and its king is itching for a war of conquest with his neighbour, Kanday. News from Melderyn is that giants and gargûn (orcs) have sacked several towns.
  16. How about gladiatorial arenas complete with hard-won glory and fabulous cash prizes?  The games are called the Pamesani and they're held twice each month in the western cities of Golotha, Coranan, and Shiran. They're organized by the clerics of Agrik, the fiery god of cruelty and destruction. (In decent places like Melderyn and Kaldor, the worship of Agrik is outlawed.)
  17. Are there any secret societies with sinister agendas I could join and/or fight?  Yeah there are, mostly relating to cults of various kinds. There's also the Lia-Kavair, or Thieves' Guild, but they're not really that sinister: they're mostly into limited wealth redistribution — at least, that's how it appears to most people.
  18. What is there to eat around here?  Everything you could eat in medieval Britain, plus the potato.
  19. Any legendary lost treasures I could be looking for?  The forgotten secrets of the Earthmasters, an ancient civilization whose wondrous ruins dot the land, are totally what you're looking for.
  20. Where is the nearest dragon or other monster with Type H treasure?  Head out from any town and, after a few days riding away from civilization, ask the local peasants what's eating them — figuratively and literally. Go from there. 

Disclaimers and disclosures

The setting is not canon Hârn, nor is the game intended to be especially Hârnesque in the sense of striving for medieval realism. This Hârn merely provides a fund of geographical and sociopolitical details that serve as the backdrop for good old D&D shenanigans. I roll on lots of tables, only some of which have anything to do with Hârn.

Finally: this game is all about player agency. Be whomever you want, do whatever you want. But it's also about a safe space for the exercise of your imagination. If it were a movie, I'd suggest a PG-13 rating in the MPAA classification — that is to say, in the Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom ballpark. In our exchanges, I look forward to exemplary civility and respectfulness as you and your comrades plot how best to slay monsters and take their stuff.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Session 66 (23 January 2019)

Note to readers: This is a session re-cap of an ongoing D&D 5th edition campaign set in a loosely adapted version of N. Robin Crossby's Hârn. A journal of sessions 1 through 54, beginning in February 2015, can be found here.

In-world dates: 8-9 Ilvin 720 TR [second week of winter]
Moon: waxing crescent (full moon on 15 Ilvin)

Swept up in a furious mêlée with the vampires, you deal significant damage to six of them, reducing them to clouds of mist that float away, seeking their grave in hopes of regenerating. Malevix, Dracul's father, escapes from the fray carrying the still-breathing body of Sildar Hallwinter, knight of Melderyn. Galindo and Juan follow in mist form (the Wind Walk spell is still in effect for them) while Dracul and Gil'Doren battle the bloodsucking undead with sword and spell.

Malevix's flight ends at the end of a passage that opens on a vast underground chasm. He shouts, "To me!" and his vampire cronies — at least, those still in corporeal form — instantly shapechange into bats and swarm in his direction, joined by other (normal) bats that suddenly appear. As Dracul, followed by the somewhat slower elf, rush after them down the passage, Malevix turns and holds Sildar's limp form out over the chasm.

"Dracul, my son — join me! Take up the sword I gave you and claim your birthright!" he commands.

"I will not!" replies Dracul.

"Then your friend shall die," declares Malevix, changing into a bat and releasing his grip on Sildar, who plunges into the great bottomless rift. A parting Fireball from Gil'Doren slays many of the normal bats, but the vampires escape into the darkness.

After ensuring that the bodies of Sildar's slain companions will not rise as vampire thralls, you teleport to Cherafir, capital of Melderyn, and give your report. Androkles, the head of the king's council, listens to your tale of woe: Sildar's death will bring dismay to many in the realm. He has bad news of his own: Melderene ships, sent to scout the coasts for signs of the giants, have been disappearing; sailors and fishermen report seeing Storm Giants riding great sea creatures, and one claims that he saw a kraken destroy a naval vessel. Androkles is not sure whether to give credence to such tales, but the fact is, the kingdom is blind, especially now that Sildar and his rangers are dead.

You speak to Queen Aranath of Evael through one of the crystals she gave you. She has no news, but declares the Sindarin ready to march agains the giants. She offers you elf-forged sun blades to help you against the vampires, and suggests that if you wish to make contact with the storm giants, you needs must sail to a location far out in the western ocean.

You consider three courses of action:

  • travel to Kaldor to convince that kingdom to lend its support to the struggle against the giants
  • contact the Storm Giants to discover why they are helping their lesser kin, the Hill, Frost, and Fire Giants in their unjust war against the free folk of Hârn
  • try to enlist the help of Venomfang the Green Dragon, and through him perhaps other dragons, in the fight against Giant domination

You decide upon the first option, planning first to teleport to Elshavel, collect the sun blades, and then to travel overland to Kaldor. You rest, gather supplies and intelligence, and set out on the morrow.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

A calendar of events thus far in TR 720

Hârnic date Corresponding Gregorian date Event
22 Azura Late October Leave Thay.
24 Azura Arrive Phandalin.
7 Halane Early November Spellforge explodes in Wave Echo Cave.
10 Halane Murder Hill Giant.
12 Halane Fight Venomfang.
20 Halane Explore abandoned Khuzan mine.
21 Halane Mid-November Giants destroy Phandalin.
26 Halane Late November Rescue of Hill Giant captives.
9 Savor Early December Arrive in Azadmere.
15-17 Savor Raid on Frost Giant rift.
20 Savor Mid-December Giants take Thay.
24-25 Savor Explore Telumar (Earthmaster complex).
26 Savor Meet Deep Gnomes of Djebel (Underdark).
28 Savor Raid on the Fire Giants' mountain.
30 Savor Arrive Melderyn.
2 Ilvin Late December Arrive Elshavel.
5 Ilvin Defeat Elvanna.
6 Ilvin Defend Elshavel vs White Dragons.
8 Ilvin Early January Fight with Malevix.

Sessions 65 through 68 (Sept. to Nov. 2018)

Note to readers: This is a session re-cap of an ongoing D&D 5th edition campaign set in a loosely adapted version of N. Robin Crossby's Hârn. A journal of sessions 1 through 54, beginning in February 2015, can be found here.

In-world dates: 6–8 Ilvin 720 TR [first week of winter]
Moon: waxing crescent (full moon on 15 Ilvin)

6 Ilvin
  • Alexandria takes Heidi to return her to her village.
  • The party murderates the vizir and guards who discover Leomund's Tiny Hut inside the treasury.
  • Cade, a prisoner aboard the skyship, is interrogated by the Lengese, who seem principally interested in maximizing their profit from trade in slaves and gems.
  • Cade escapes by shapeshifting into a bug; unfortunately, many of his the pets he had about his person were destroyed when he was thrust into the Amphoron's crushing mechanism. The Lengese appear uninterested in recapturing him.
  • Reunited with the party, Cade uses Transport via Plants to bring the group back to the Lengese skyship. (He had planted moss there before escaping for good.) Sneaking into the hold, the party locates Baba Yaga's hut and releases Baba Yaga from her magical prison.
  • Baba Yaga invites the party into her hut — it is, astonishingly, much bigger on the inside! — and teleports back to the portal leading to Evael on Hârn.
  • Baba Yaga
  • Baba Yaga gives Juan an unbreakable crowbar; she also gives Cade several gems. The party agrees to loan her the Well of Many Worlds and the Prison of Zagig so that she may better track down and capture her daughter Elvanna. She also warns them of two flying creatures rapidly approaching from the west.
  • Dracul's eagle eyes notes that the flyers are two white dragons. The party hastily passes through the portal.
  • Back in Evael, the wintry storm seems to be subsiding. Cade uses Wind Walk to bring the party swiftly back to the Sindarin capital, Elshavel (his mentor maintained a teleportation circle in her house there).
  • Queen Aranath welcomes the party, who recount their adventures and the vanquishing of Elvanna. Aranath rewards them with gifts: Boots of Speed for Juan, a shirt of fine elven mail for Gil'Doren, a Horn of Blasting for Dracul, and a Staff of the Woodlands for Cade.
  • The white dragons attack Elshavel! In the ensuing battle, Cade and Dracul land on one dragon's back, while the other is attacked by a flying Gil'Doren and potent incendiary spells.  Juan mans a ballista and wreaks havoc.
  • The dragons are destroyed, though many Sindarin fall in the course of battle. Queen Aranath thanks the party for their valour and bestows a blessing upon them. She also gives them some crystals that can be used for scrying, to distribute to the nations of the alliance that is forming against the Giant-Drow-Lengese coalition.
  • The party rests.  Gil'Doren inherits his mentor's old home in Elshavel— she left some years ago and deeded all her possessions to him — and proceeds to scour her grimoires for new spells.
7 Ilvin
  • Using a teleportation circle within his former mentor's home, Gil'Doren brings the party to the capital of the kingdom of Melderyn, which they find well fortified.
  • After receiving an update on the strategic situation from the kingdom's ministers, the party decides to prioritize finding Maslorius. Scrying the gnome, you find he is moping in some kind of prison cell. Using Transport via Plants (there is moss on the wall or something) you drop in and rescue him.
  • Back in Melderyn, the party scries upon Malevix, Dracul's father: he is seen interrogating a prisoner in a castle that you think is Gythrun, an important Melderene port on the Hârnic mainland.
8 Ilvin
  • The party Transports via Plants to Azadmere and meets with the kingdom's spymaster, Fjola. After some rest, you scry on Malevix again: this time you see him in bat form, flying in a swarm toward the south. You Transport via Plants to a nearby tree and Wind Walk, tailing the bats to an abandoned tower on on the coast across from the island of Melderyn. The bats fly down into the depths of the tower where a group of Melderene knights, clad as rangers are resting. The bats revert to vampire form and attack! You shift out of cloud shapes yourselves and take on the evil undead...

Friday, July 13, 2018

Session 64 (11 July 2018)

Note to readers: This is a session re-cap of an ongoing D&D 5th edition campaign set in a loosely adapted version of N. Robin Crossby's Hârn. A journal of sessions 1 through 54, beginning in February 2015, can be found here.

In-world dates: 5 Ilvin 720 TR [first week of winter]
Moon: waxing crescent (full moon in 9 days)

Opening the door, Juan and Dracul discover within a wizard's study and laboratory: the walls are lined with shelves full of arcane jarred or dried ingredients (eye of newt, toe of frog, etc.), some utterly unidentifiable. In the middle is a large workbench with alchemical apparatus and a variety of instruments. On one end of the table sits a small, ornate birdcage containing a mouse. Beside it, lying open, is a large book. On the visible page is an illustration depicting a birdcage that closely resembles the one nearby. In one corner of the room, there is a 10-foot-diameter raised dais of ice with low steps leading up to it; in another, an extremely lifelike ice statue of a female human warrior. The latter looks strangely familiar...

While Juan ransacks the room for things of value (after taking care to wedge the door closed), Dracul examines the statue and realizes it's Alexandria, the Amazon warrior you had encountered previously, both in waking life and in the odd collective dream you had of a labyrinthine ice tower. Activating his Searing Sword, the dragonborn warrior carefully thaws out the frozen Amazon. Meanwhile, Juan hears movement outside and takes measures to secure the door. Peeking through the keyhole, he sees a slim figure robed in white approach the door, try the handle and, finding the door barred, bend down to peer through the keyhole. He thus comes eye to eye with a pale woman whose emotionless expression is as cold as the aura she exudes. She straightens abruptly and leaves.

Released from her icy prison, Alexandria explains that she was captured while investigating the tower and imprisoned in ice by the ice queen herself several days ago. Though unable to move or speak, the Amazon was nonetheless able to perceive, dimly, some of the activity around her. The ice dais, she notes, seems to be a teleportation device of some kind through which the ice queen occasionally enters and exits the laboratory. She also observed the ice queen repeatedly speaking to the mouse in the birdcage, but the latter never replied.

Image result for birdcage metal exoticDracul sets about performing the ritual magic that will allow him to Speak to Animals while Alexandria and Juan make preparations against attack, either via the door or the teleportation dais. As a precaution, Juan unfolds the Well of Many Worlds and spreads the silken fabric atop the dais. Sure enough, moments later, the ice queen materializes on the dais... and promptly plummets through the Well!

Meanwhile, Dracul engages the mouse in dialogue. It is (as your dream suggested) none other than Baba Yaga herself. She does not know how to free herself from the birdcage; presumably Elvanna, her daughter, knows a command word. The cage itself appears to be indestructible. Baba Yaga inquires after her hut, but you do not know its whereabouts.

There is hammering at the door: guards and wolves! Time to go. Leaping onto the teleportation dais, you speak the command word — Alexandria and Baba Yaga have heard the ice queen using it – and are instantly conveyed to a sumptuously decorated bedroom: a vast ornate bed draped in the finest white silks, fine tapestries, and a large locked chest occupy the space. In the corner stands another ice statue, this one of a young girl in peasant garb. While Dracul sets about thawing the girl, Juan picks the lock on the chest, inadvertently setting off an icy explosion! He is rewarded, however, by discovery of several scrolls and a superbly crafted arrow within. Alexandria searches for another exit, and finds one in the form of a secret door. Unable to figure out how to open it, Juan resorts to hacking at it with his crowbar. The girl, it turns out, is named Heidi, and asks to be returned to her mother in the village. Baba Yaga, however, tells you Heidi is very likely Elvanna's daughter (and thus her own grand-daughter).

Two hundred feet below, at the base of the ice tower, Gil'Doren lands softly (thanks to Feather Fall) and finds himself confronted by two very confused guards at the tower entrance. Snaring them in a magical Web, the tall elf races inside and begins a hasty search for a route leading to the upper levels whence he fell. Bypassing several doors, he notices a secret door which he succeeds in opening: it leads to a securely locked vault and to some kind of administrator's office. Realizing that he is being hunted by the guards, he Dimension Doors to the tower's parapets and, seeing no one, begins to descend the stairs. He passes a section of wall through which come sounds of chopping and hammering, notices a secret door, opens it and.... finds himself face to face with Juan, Dracul, and Alexandria.

Reunited at last (but without Cade, who was last seen being processed by a mechanical monster), you return via stairs to the lower levels and duck into the passage leading to the vault. Juan succeeds in picking its three locks, but is jabbed by a poisoned needle. Inside, you discover a great deal of wealth – all mundane items, but of considerable value. Safely ensconced within Leomund's Tiny Hut, you settle down to rest and plan your next move.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Sessions 62 & 63 (13 June and 27 June 2018)

Note to readers: This is a session re-cap of an ongoing D&D 5th edition campaign set in a loosely adapted version of N. Robin Crossby's Hârn. A journal of sessions 1 through 54, beginning in February 2015, can be found here.

In-world dates: 5 Ilvin 720 TR [first week of winter]
Moon: waxing crescent (full moon in 9 days)

A chaotic battle erupts on the ice tower's parapets as Gil'Doren and Cade engage the guards. Juan, meanwhile, maintains his subterfuge, lugging his burden down the stairs leading into the tower as if he were a peasant bearer. Dracul, previously deposited in the rookery by bird-Cade, opens the door and sees Juan as he passes by pretending to be a stevedore. The mighty warrior decides to follow.

On the parapets, things get wild: Druid Grove and Storm Sphere spells transform the environment even as new foes join the fray: several mechanized metal constructs from the flying ship and the rookmistress Oxana, who is not only able to fly, but apparently can also speak to her ravens in their language.

Fireballs explode, lightning flashes, auras of ice come and go... Gil'Doren and Cade hold their own until the tentacle-fingered aliens (the Lengese) on the flying ship conjure a barrage of Hypnotic Patterns that incapacitates the two heroes!

But Oxana's ravens obey the order to attack Cade, unintentionally freeing him from the charm with their painful pecks. He in turn wakes Gil'Doren who wreaks more havoc on the constructs with his spells. The flying ship begins to withdraw, but the heroes fly over, land on its decks, and continue their assault. Another wave of Hypnotic Patterns again renders the heroes helpless, and Cade cannot resist as one of the constructs uses its pincer arm to draw him into its internal processing machinery, a combination of metal-toothed blades guaranteed to process him to mush. Gil'Doren's familiar is already in the air and pecks his master back into consciousness, sparing him a similar fate. Surrounded by the tentacled aliens and seeing that he cannot free the druid, Gil'Doren casts a parting Fireball and leaps off the ship, Feather Falling to the ground below.

Meanwhile, Juan and Dracul explore the winding passages spiraling downward through the interior of the ice tower. They find several unoccupied guest rooms; three guards appear, but they are quickly dispatched by Dracul. Having descended several "floors", they discover a room hidden behind a secret door; it provides a concealed position from which to spy upon the goings-on in a massive round chamber — apparently some kind of throne room. A vizir-like fellow, one of the bearers, and a Drow can be seen talking to a someone who is out of sight on a dais below you. Juan fits an arrow to his bow, takes aim, and shoots the Drow! The two heroes then backtrack to investigate a strange, frost-rimed door, only to discover that the bas relief of a bearded man's face over the door conceals a deadly trap: a chilling gust of cold that freezes you to the bone and turns the floors into an ice rink. Even worse: it's also an alarm! Crawling doggedly up to the door despite the withering blasts of cold, Dracul hacks it to pieces, but it takes several rounds.

Clearly, something of great importance must lie within...

Session 61 (2 May 2018)

Note to readers: This is a session re-cap of an ongoing D&D 5th edition campaign set in a loosely adapted version of N. Robin Crossby's Hârn. A journal of sessions 1 through 54, beginning in February 2015, can be found here.

The Dream, part 2

You continue your exploration of the maze-like corridors, heading in the direction the yeti cook said was north. A variety of weirdness ensues: rooms in which you can walk on the walls and ceilings; a room full of fireflies; a glockenspiel that moves your minds into someone else's body. You also meet a lascivious female version of Juan who tries to kill you. (She winds up polymorphed into an orca and securely bound.)

At last you find a cellblock of sorts and within, a jail cell occupied by a speaking mouse who claims to be Baba Yaga. She explains that she has been captured by her daughter Elvanna and imprisoned in some of cell that prevents her from using her magic. She retains, however, the power to shape the dreams of others, and this is how she has been able to contact you. The dream you are in is in part created by her, in part created by your own minds. She urges you to find her, or find her hut; her hut can lead you to her. You already have the keys! Baba Yaga will defeat Elvanna. But you must hurry: she is weakening, and the dream will soon end.

You hear footsteps. Turning, you see a pale dragonborn warrior approaching. It is Dracul's father, Malevix. He is terrifying. You know that you are powerless before him. He will slay you and drink your blood. You try to scream, but it is too late....

You wake in a cold sweat. You are in your camp in the elven forest. The pale light of dawn is beginning to show in the east. It was just a dream... but then you learn that you all had the exact same one. Perhaps Baba Yaga was indeed speaking to you through it?