Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Hagglesmith Rescue - Part V

Escape from the Cellar

The air in the room was filled with nearly electric tension as the wind swirled leaves around the room, and billowed the cobwebs in the corners. A hazy blue light seemed to be coming from somewhere but no one could detect its source. Hermel, Johan, and Jeremy stood pensively in the Five Crows Tavern wine cellar watching the secret door that had just closed on a scene of bizarre and spine tingling terror. Though they had overcome the guards in the room, severely wounding two, and tying up the leader, Charlie, and had successfully freed the Hagglemsiths, they all knew they were still in grave danger.  Perhaps the gravest they'd ever faced, or ever would face.

On the far side of the room just beyond the now closed secret door Hermel had seen a dark seething miasma in the corridor, at the center of which he thought he could make out what looked to be a knight in black platemale walking slowly towards the room in cold and absolute silence. When Johan, having obtained the secret of how to close the secret door from Charlie, who was tied up in a chair, yet smirking to himself, he threw the switch at the base of the wall lamp. The secret door closed as expected, but another secret door opened, through which the party saw torchlight reflecting off the walls and heard numerous footsteps approaching.

Knowing that the horrible spectral Knight was approaching on the other side of that thin secret door, everyone wanted to flee the basement and take their chances elsewhere, and so Johan threw the bolt on the oaken door open hoping they could all escape to the tavern upstairs. Two of the Hagglemsiths hoisted their unconscious brother Rory up and supported him as they made their way to the door.

Johan, looking down at Charlie, sensed the captured and unscrupulous villain was on the verge of yelling out a warning to the men coming by way newly revealed corridor. Without waiting to see what effect that might have he unleashed the power he had been holding in his hands and visited upon the miserable wretch an Invocation of the Elkron of the Sun, known by some in the Temple as ‘The Hammer of Elrdick’.  The man crumpled instantly, nearly imploding, a look of unbelieving terror covering his face. It seemed as though he had been hit by some colossal invisible force, and that all of the many sins of his life had arrived in a single blow to crush his conscience and utterly devastate him. The priests of Eldrik say that those who are so struck down in fact have only themselves to blame, for a sinless man would have nothing to fear from the Elkron of the Sun. Charlie, now destroyed, slumped in his chair, his head lolling to one side, the breath of life snuffed out of him. Had he yelled, thought Johan, Charlie could have easily eliminated their chance to escape. Johan had a wry smile on his face as the moral complexities and convolutions of the priesthood once again came home to him. Hermel signaled for him to open the secret door, thinking to let the spectral knight in the room which he hoped would create enough mayhem to give the approaching party pause, and allow them a chance to escape.

Hermel, was still  in the far corner of the room near the closed secret door where he had seen the miasma, though at the moment he was looking toward the newly opened secret door on the adjacent wall. He saw a troop of men approaching with torches and thought to himself that these must be the people who Charlie had mentioned were coming to exchange a package of some sort for the captured Hagglesmiths.  He wondered what kind of package could be as valuable as four children.  The approaching men were wearing studded leather armor and carrying swords at their sides. Behind them he glimpsed a cloaked figure, but could not make out any details. Before they saw him, he ducked behind a crate, and made his way stealthily out of their line of sight.

At that moment Johan re-opened the secret door by turning the switch on the wall lamp again. The panel in the wall slid open, and instantly the far corner of the room was filled with a dark misty shadow. The wind in the room was whirling crazy circles and spirals kicking up dust devils as papers and leaves fluttered wildly through the air. Into the room silently stepped the knight in platemale so black that no light reflected off of it at all... It almost seemed to be an empty space in the shape of platemale, rather than a man wearing armor. Allen, the unlucky villain who had been critically wounded earlier, began desperately trying to crawl away, dragging himself along the floor gasping for air and moaning in terror. His comrade, Bren, was laying against a crate, half dead, staring into the shadowy miasma and began muttering under his breath to himself, his eyes lolling around in his head. The knight reached downward with a his hand sheathed in the darkest black.

Enter the Villains - Retreat!

There was a moment when the men bearing torches entered the cellar through their secret door, but glancing around and seeing the guards dead or dying, prisoners escaping, the wild wind blowing from nowhere, the ethereal blue haze, the dark miasma within which stood the dark shadow of the black knight, and the look of sheer otherworldly horror on the face of Allen... they retreated backwards with their hands in the air and sealed the secret door shut behind them. They never even took more than a moments notice of Hermel or the others in the room so eager were they to get away. As suddenly as they came, they were gone again. No doubt their vile plans were thwarted that day.

Johan began ushering Jeremy and the Hagglesmiths through the door out onto a small hallway landing. There they found a wooden desk, a wall mirror, and a wash basin. The floor boards creeked when they stepped out onto them but that did not make a single one among them hesitate for a moment.  Looking to their left they found a flight of wooden stairs and immediately began carrying Rory up to the next floor landing. Meanwhile Hermel, not wanting even to know what might become of Allan or his friend, took a mad dash for the door where Johan was rapidly disappearing through. He could hear the gasping weezing sounds of Allen as he struggled to escape his doom. Then there was a gurgling noise, a horrific hiss and groan, and then silence. Hermel did not look back but darted through the door and closed it quickly behind him.  His skin was crawling from head to toe. He bolted up the stairs.

At the Top of the Stairs

They stopped at the top landing and Johan opened the door just a crack in order to see what was ahead of them. Jeremy clung behind him and they both peered into the Five Crows Tavern. At several tables were  groups of men drinking ales, and talking quietly. At one table sat the same thin man with the brown moustache, and his enormous dull-eyed friend they'd encountered during their first investigation sitting beside him brooding over a flagon of ale. Behind the bar was the burly barkeep who had chased Lido and Hermel out the first time. There were other men sitting at tables whom they had no reason to recognize as none of them had seen them before. All of the men in the tavern were glancing around, and drinking or eating quietly. Only a word or two was spoken here and there. They seemed to have the air of men who were waiting for something to happen.  Johan noted that there was no one between them and the door leading outside to the street, and he thought that there was a chance that they could make it to the exit.  But looking at the Hagglesmiths carrying Rory, who they had not been able to awaken, he had second thoughts about that. They could not move fast enough to make a dash for it, and even if they did, there would be nothing to prevent their adversaries in the bar from catching up with them outside. It looked just too risky.

“We’re trapped,” he thought to himself.

The Barroom Brawl

Suddenly the thin man with the moustache noticed that the door to the cellar was cracked open and two pairs of eyes were peering through.

“What the hell?” he said as he stood up pointing to the door through which Johan and Jeremy were peering. Next to him the large dull-eyed man also stood up suddenly. At that moment all hell broke loose in the bar. Everyone stood up, knocking chairs over and someone dropped a mug of beer which shattered on the ground.

Johan stepped back away from the door, and prepared himself for another invocation of the power of the Elkron. Jeremy crouched down and got ready to run. Hermel withdrew his sword and got himself ready, and motioned for the Hagglesmiths to be prepared to run on his mark.

Johan threw the door open, stepped into the room and walked to a spot that put himself between the men in the room and the path to the exit. Hermel darted into the room behind him and positioned himself next Johan, forming a battle line that protected the path from the stairs to the outside door.

“Run for it,” shouted Hermel to the Hagglesmiths behind him. Jeremy made a dash for the door and leaped outside. They could hear him as he ran down the street shouting for the police at the top of his lungs.

Johan unleashed his miraculous Invocation on the brawny dull-eyed guy. There was a brief pause, when the Hammer of Eldrik landed and then the man slowly fell to his knees with a thud that made the room shudder. On his face was a dreadful expression of grief. He began sobbing hysterically and covered his tear-streaked face with his hands.

“Stand back,” announced Johan, “This is official Guild Business!”

Hermel at the same time leaped forward and attacked the man with the moustache. Regrettably, his attack did not land as the man whirled to the side, and so the sword only clipped a quarter of the man’s moustache, the hairs of which fell to the table. He looked down, felt his moustache with his left hand, and his eyes began to bulge with outrage and anger.

Then the other men in the room charged forward. Two of them attacked Johan, one man stabbing him in the arm with a dagger, and another man piercing his leg with his sword. Down went Johan to the ground with a groan.  The men who did this now were in position to block the line of escape. The Hagglesmiths, seeing this, considered briefly the prospect of backing up and making their way back downstairs. That however seemed much the worse option, and so they heaved Rory more firmly onto their shoulders and tried to make a dash for the door as quickly as possible.  They rushed toward the men anyway, hoping to be able to barge past them somehow.

As this happened, the man with the moustache, boiling over with rage, withdrew a long bladed dagger from its old leather sheath and lunged at Hermel. But as his dagger was plunging toward Hermel’s heart a fly buzzed across the man's face and stung him in the eye. This caused him to twist and catch his foot on a chair leg, and so he went sailing past Hermel and bashed into the man who had hit Johan with his sword, knocking both of them onto the floor. Hermel heard, at that moment, a tiny gleeful laughter in his ear as the fly buzzed past his head.  He looked around and spotted a gas lamp on one of the walls, and thought that if he could get to it, and break it, he might be able to start a fire, and cause enough mayhem to give the kids a chance to escape. Hermel heaved a table on top of the man with the moustache effectively pinning the angry fellow to the ground and tried his best to surge past him to get at the lamp.

Outside a police whistle could be heard in the distance. As the Hagglemsiths were trying to barge past, one of the men grabbed Janet Hagglesmith as she tried to ram her way past into the street.

Johan was on the floor groaning in agony, and bleeding into the floorboards.

Unable to leap over him, Hermel took a stab at the man with the moustache under the table in front of him and stabbed him hard in the shoulder. He shrieked in pain, “Aiiiii you got me while I’m down!”

At the door Janet Hagglesmith was struggling with the man who held her sturdily by the wrist. She cocked back her hips, and hurled a heavily booted foot directly into the man’s groin sending him flying backwards smashing into the other man behind him, bowling them both over. She cocked her head, smiled, and brushed her fingernails on her old torn shirt.

“Serves you right, grabbing at a defenseless girl like that!” she said as she turned and followed her siblings out the door into the street. Again a police whistle was heard, this time much closer.

Meanwhile in the bar the fight continued ferociously. Hermel was trying his best to get at the lamp on the wall in the hopes that could start a fire. He wound up surrounded by adversaries including the burly bartender who had charged out from behind the bar carrying a heavy club in his right hand. Hermel hunkered down into a defensive posture and yelled, “Back off or I’m going to hit this lamp and burn your place down for real.”

The bartender did not hold back, but heaved forward and tried to smash Hermel in the head, but the blow bounced off his shield. The barkeep bum rushed Hermel and bashed him into the wall, which inadvertently caused him to hit the lamp with his sword sheering off the bronze nozzle. A fly buzzed across Hermel’s line of sight just as a jet of flame from the broken lamp seemed to follow the fly’s trajectory toward the barkeep’s head. The flame caught the man’s hair on fire, and so he hurled himself to the ground in his effort to extinguish it. From the side, however, one of the other men tried to attack him but his blow went wide and the blade of his sword cut a gash in the wall behind him instead. Again Hermel heard a strange high-pitched laughter in his ear. Meanwhile outside in the street the sound of police whistles and many feet running in the direction of the tavern was heard.

Hermel thought about making a break for it by leaping over the barkeep, jumping up on the bar and running down its length to get away from the other two men in the hopes that this maneuver would catch them by surprise and allow him to escape. But he decided that would be just a tad bit too risky, and so he hunkered down again and hoped to defend himself until those nice police men from the street came busting in.  And that’s just what happened next.

The Barnstormers

And so it was that Drake Barnstormer and his fighting men came bursting into the Five Crows Tavern and subdued everyone still fighting in the bar.  As it happened Barnstormer had been tipped off to the fact that there was contraband being traded out of the basement cellar, and that a kidnapping ring involved, and so he had been expecting to raid the place for some time.  He just needed solid evidence, or nothing would get through the slow, ponderous and grinding court of justice at the top of the hill.  Now he had all the evidence he needed now to prove the barkeep, the man with the brown moustache and the other members of his gang were running a kidnapping and extortion ring, and drug cartel out of the old tavern. The villains were tied up, and corralled onto a police wagon that came rolling up a few minutes later.

Still standing in the far corner of the bar, Hermel marveled as he finally got a close look at the fly, who had landed on the back of his hand for a moment. Peering carefully downward he saw that on the back of the fly was a tiny yellow spot. Focusing his vision even more carefully he saw that the yellow spot was a tiny man tethered to the back of the fly, holding the insect by a pair of reigns. The tiny man waved his arm emphatically and laughed with great cheer. It was, Hermel suddenly realized, Wuton, the mystery man. At that moment the fly flicked off his hand and flew through an open window, laughter trailing off into the distance, and as he did so the jet of fire still shooting out of the bronze lamp on the wall suddenly ceased. Hermel stood staring out the window in amazement.

The kids were all ok, and even Rory had finally been revived.

“What did I miss?” he asked blearily.

“Come on, lets go get some rat sticks. I’ll tell you all about it on the way,” said Janet, his sister, as they trotted off down the street, having made an agreement with Drake to show up in court on the appointed date before they left. Their testimony would be key to the forthcoming convictions. Hermel, who had miraculous invocations of his own, healed Johan with the mystical power of his Healing Stone, and so the wounds were closed up and Johan brought back to health in a short time. Jeremy was delighted and was last seen dancing around the Hagglesmiths as they went off to find a rat stick vendor. Lastly, there stood Hermel talking with Drake as they walked slowly away from the tavern.

“I have to say,” said Drake with a tone of subtle dread in his voice, “that in all my years I never saw anything quite so horrible as what we found in the basement there.”

Hermel, who didn’t really wish to know, listened quietly.

“I’ll never forget it. That poor bastard was laying there, the left half his body shriveled up like a prune, so old and dried out that his hair on that side was snow white and his skin had nearly turned to dust,” he concluded with a shudder. “And maybe the most frightening thing of all was his comrade, Bren, I think his name was, who we took out mumbling over and over to himself with those crazy eyes, saying ‘There’s no time left… there’s no time left… there’s no time left.”

Hermel shuddered too, and they both walked off in search of a better tavern in which to have a drink. And as they did Hermel was thinking to himself, “I know I shouldn’t do this … but I can’t help wondering what ever became of those two irksome little Hobbits after all?”


Previous Episode: The Hagglesmith Rescue - Part IV
Next Episode:  The Happless Hobbits

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Stick Figures From Hell

I made up a tiny little Mini-Elthos-RPG that uses the Elthos ODS Rules as a backbone.

It's a silly little thing, but somehow I like it anyway.  So here you go. 

The Mini-Elthos RPG

:)

Enjoy.

Monday, December 19, 2011

RPG Carnival November 2011: Tricks and Traps, or how to think like a Villain

As a follow up to my November RPG Carnival post, I will now take my turn to reflect on how I go about Gamesmastering Villains in my Elthos Campaign.  But first a hat tip and thanks to all the posters from the November RPG Carnival, all of whom helped me to clarify some of my thoughts here.  It’s tricky business to play Villains well. We have the usual conundrum of the split between the two semi-incompatible objectives of RPGs. On the one hand we want them to produce interesting stories. On the other hand we want them to be quite fully a game, with game-rules, and the possibility of winning or losing. These two objectives are not always going to be able to be met because in some cases players will do something, even something smart perhaps, but be unlucky and still lose the encounter. That, usually, is considered “Bad Story”, especially by the Players involved. But it’s a game, and sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. So what makes this tricky is that the Gamesmaster is the Opponent to the Players, and his Characters are sometimes (often) the Villains of the story. Some Villains are dumb, but some are smart. And in a lot of good stories Villains are not just smart, but super-genius types. And that’s the where things get really tricky indeed. How do you Gamesmaster a Super-Genius, or regular genius, or even ‘smarty pants’ Villain both fairly in terms of game rules, and yet also with some sort of “Villain’s flaw” that is what usually gets the heroes out of trouble in traditional adventure stories?

Tricky to Gamesmaster.

In my case, I try to play my campaigns oriented quite a bit towards the ideal that the goodness of the story will come out of the Players interactions with the world in Role Playing, and the foundations of the World as developed in the back story. Beyond that, I try to play it out as any Gamist would. I stick to the rules, and don’t fudge the dice (except in very rare cases where some result really makes no sense at all). The way I do this is a multi-step process.

Mapping the Terrain: I ensure that I know what the map looks like, keeping in mind movement, and escape routes, to and from important locations in the campaign setting.

Arch Villain
Mapping the NPCs: I ensure that each NPC is a full character, rolled up, with skills and equipment, personal motives, and immediate as well as long term objectives. I play my Villains like I would play any Character I have in someone else’s game. They’re not props for Player Characters just to mow down. They’re My Characters in the game. However, they are not perfect, nor are they all powerful. I make sure to distinguish always between what I know as GM and what THEY know as Characters in the world. They never know nearly as much as I do, and that serves to ensure that quite often they make the wrong guesses as to what the Player Characters are up to. I do this for all the NPCs involved. If there is a chief Villain, with a handful of loyal retainers, and an army of thug-servants, I will roll up the Villain and his loyal retainers individually. For the army I will roll up one example of different types and just multiply those guys. So the army may have 100 members, but really only three or four types; the big thug (most of them), the little wiry guy (handful), the mystics – ie; spell caster (one or two), and /or cleric types. That way for the entire mass I really only roll up at most 8 or 9 characters. Everyone gets equipped.

Playing the Villain: Once I’ve rolled up the NPCs, I then know that I have in hand a full set of game-rules specified antagonists to work with. I can toss them into the mix, or hold them back as reserves as the Villain sees fit during the course of the game. The way I play them is just the way I would play any traditional war-game. When the Players make a move, the Villain makes a move. We go back and forth. I periodically also roll to discern what kind of reaction the NPCs may have to a change in the status of the current circumstance. For example, in the last game session the Players were in a basement cellar having subdued the three guards there and were in the process of freeing their captive friends. At that moment they were also being invaded by some sort of spectral force in the far corner of the room which had created a black shadowy miasma and was in the process of devouring one of the NPCs who had been subdued. Also at that moment the Villains arrived to swap contraband for the captives. When the secret door to the room opened for them they found the scene quite horribly different than what they expected. The chief Villain, of course, did not go herself to the room – why should she? She lingered back down the corridor in another room to await news of a successful transfer. She sent instead her minion, and several foot soldiers to carry out what should have been an quick and easy exchange. But when the Villainous party entered the room and saw that all of their guys were tied up, the prisoners had been freed and were already escaping out the door to the upstairs, AND there was some sort of hideous dark miasma taking shape as a black knight reaching downward toward a stricken comrade… they rolled a reaction check. A roll of 1 would be very favorable for the heroes (they flee), while a roll of 6 would be very unfavorable (they attack the heroes regardless of the danger). Rolls in the middle would represent confusion and indecision on their part. They rolled a 1, and immediately began retreating.

That’s how I play my Villains in terms of game mechanics.

Now I would also like to add that from a story perspective, in an effort to keep the story being “good” rather than “wtf – sucky”, I try to always keep in mind that my Villians are all individual Characters with their own, often competing, agendas, and occasional severe personality flaws. For example, one Villain is a doctor whose extreme pride caused him to pursue a line of research that has lead to some very bad consequences for those around him. But he does not care, so focused on the research he is doing “for the benefit of humanity”, he feels that the ends justify the means. To add a bit of a twist, in his particular case, it is very possible that he may be right about that. Another Villain is a cold blooded bastard who is only interested in his own advancement, and is perfectly willing to use anyone or anything to get what he wants. He very often, however, acts perfectly reasonable, and polite, and even considerate to others in order to either get them to do what he wants, or gain information he would otherwise not be able to obtain. As long as those in his power do what he wants, he is inclined to treat them well, knowing that this is the best way to ensure they continue to go along with the program. As soon as they become less then cooperative, or inconvenient, or fail him, then he goes all Darth Vader on them, and that’s that. A final example is a young lady, another Villain, who is herself not so bad a person, but is trapped in a web of other Villains from which she has no means of escape. So she does all of the nastiest things to those who oppose her will, but has on occasion, when she felt it perfectly safe to do so, let some people evade the deadly conclusion to which they may have been assigned, if, and only if, she happened to feel that they were sincerely good or innocent people. Then she would secretly let them escape with some sort of instructions to flee the area and never let anyone know how they got away. Risky for her, but it is her one remaining tie to the realm of goody-goody-two-shoes, so she sticks with it.

Setting Traps:  And now a bit on traps and how my Villains think about them. First off, traps have to be commiserating with the resources available in the setting. Villains are constrained by available funds, and don’t usually like to waste a lot of money on crazy complicated traps unless they have a good reason to do so. Second, the traps have to serve the correct purpose.

Classic Trap
Sometimes traps are intended to protect an item, or a person, or an area from any intruder, and are meant to kill, kill, kill. Those are the worst traps because their intention indicates that the have two qualities that are difficult for Player Characters to deal with. One, they are set up to surprise, and two they are set up to instantly kill. Often the terrain is arranged in a way to channel the intruders to the trap, and also are arranged in a way to ensure that the intruders can not escape. That’s the plan. Smart Villains know how to do this sort of thing.

Sometimes traps are meant to ensnare the intruders. This kind of trap can be a net falling from the ceiling, or a pit in the ground, or sliding iron doors that blocks all the exits from a room. These kinds of traps are designed to allow the Villain to interrogate the prisoner(s) later. Often in this case it is not the trap that should be feared, so much as the interrogation.

Some traps are designed to slow down intruders, or position them for attacks. Such traps might be caltrops on the road in front of the castle gate, making it hard for the heroes to maneuver or escape while arrows rain down from above. Or an oil slick in the center of a room releasing slithering poison beasties from holes in the walls. Or perhaps something as simple as a sandy patch between two cliffs upon which are hidden spearmen. The point of these traps is to hamper the heroes, either for capture or for killing, depending on what the Villain ultimately decides is best.

In all cases I will determine how a trap works in relation to the game mechanics, though not at all necessarily in terms of real-world mechanics (though I do tend to prefer to know that as well – in case the Players poke around at the thing and may be able to come up with a counter mechanism). What I mean is that I know what dice to roll, and what the rolls result in. This way I can play the traps fairly at the time they are sprung, and I don’t wind up spontaneously adjudicating that something “works” when it really shouldn’t, or fails when it really should work. I try to avoid that like the plague because it’s not very sporting to Gamesmaster traps and then fudge them at the last second. If my Villain is going to bother investing the resources into building a trap, then as Gamesmaster I owe him, or her, the courtesy of designating how that trap’s game mechanic works. If they want to up it’s capability, I make them spend more resources on it, depriving them of something else they may want. Most traps have a simple die-roll that determines if it works, and another to determine its effectiveness. For example the poison needle trap has one roll to see if it hits, and a second roll to see how much damage it does.

Real-game example from the latest campaign:  If you’ve been keeping up with my blog game-test story you know that over the past few game sessions my players have run into a Villain who has been lurking in the underground doing some mad-scientist stuff. He has an even more shadowy security chief who happens to be responsible for ensuring that any intruders are trapped, killed, punished, or co-joined to the “Great Work” at hand in some way. He, of course, has his own personal objectives, too, most of which center on his becoming the master of the martial arts world. That's his schtick.  He's a villain in the classical sense.

Our heroes of the “AAA Group” have embarked on a mission to rescue another adventure group (the Hagglesmiths) who had been captured while exploring a tunnel leading from the creepy old Dunn’s Bridge Tower basement into, as it turns out, the Five Crows Tavern cellar across the street.   In their first attempt to rescue the Hagglesmiths the AAA Group invaded the dungeon complex through a secret door that was accessible through the sewer system. They at once found themselves in a secret study, very elegantly furnished with brass lanterns on the walls, a beautiful desk and liquor cabinet and a luxurious Persian rug. They broke into the desk with a crowbar and stole a letter they found inside, and then raided the liquor cabinet, downing swigs from a bottle of the fine brandy and taking the bottle with them. Wishing to explore further they placed the desk in front of the fine double wooden doors and placed liquor bottles in precarious positions on the desk top so that if anyone came into the room the glass bottles would fall and the shattering sound would alert the party members of the intrusion. They then explored further into the dungeon discovering a secret laboratory in which they found a half-living “Replicant” of one of their own members of the party. They fled through the secret door when they heard footsteps coming down the hall.

Later, in their second attempt to rescue the Hagglesmiths, they found the same study a second time, but this time they came in from Tower basement, and discovering the secret corridor to the study, and entered it a second time through the double doors. Now at this point our Villain was well aware that someone had invaded the study and stolen the letter the prior morning, which was very important to his employer's operations.  The letter contained valuable information that caused him to want very much to get it back, preferably before anyone had a chance to read it.  Needless to say, the situation set my Villain’s mind working. These are the conclusions my Villain was able to draw:

Whoever did this was an amateur who needed a crowbar to open the desk. The intruder stole a bottle of excellent brandy (missing from the cabinet) indicating a preference for fine spirits. The intruders took the Replicant Jeremy from the laboratory. This too was a serious breach that may require repair. The letter was either kept sealed or opened and read, in which case the Doctor’s operation may be compromised – requiring an immediate alteration of plans, and possible abandonment of the facility. Whomever did this might return to further explore the laboratory, either alone or with the Authorities, who would likely include the Mayor’s Police Force. Only one of the five brigades within the Police Force are known to be adamant crime-stoppers, and that is Barnstormer’s Brigade - the odds of his brigade arriving are not great.  Lastly, there have been some meddlesome kids poking around in the past few days, ever since the doctor invited Jeremy into the Tower to create a Replicant assistant from the tissue sample he obtained while helping to heal the cut on the kid's leg. After that a group of four kids broke into the basement and were captured. These turned out to be members of the Adventurer’s Guild (admitted under the influence of truth-drug) and their name is "The Hagglesmith Horde". Then the study was broken into from the secret door to the sewer system. A quick check confirms that some kids, including two Hobbits, where seen nosing around at the Five Crows Tavern trying to get information. Conclusion: Another group of kids, likely also from the Guild, invaded the study, stole the letter, and the brandy, and were likely to show up again in an effort to locate their friends the Hagglesmiths.

Based on these observations and conclusions my Villain decided to trap the room. His objective was to ensnare the intruder in a way to allow him to force them to return the letter. A deadly slow acting poison with only one possible antidote that he has would do the trick. He decided to poison needle the desk with the Necrotic Blood of the Black Lotus, a fatal slow acting poison to which only he has the antidote. As an added measure, and to drive the intruder into his waiting arms, he then trapped the cabinet of liquor bottles with a fire trap. Pulling the nice brandy decanter in the front pulls a string that tips over a bottle pouring the liquor, ignites a match and drops it to the Persian rug which has been soaked with a flammable substance. After five seconds the double doors would slam shut. This should, he felt, do one of two things. Most likely the intruder would inspect the desk before refreshing himself with brandy. Hence he would be poisoned, and desiring brandy to quench the pain, thus, igniting the fire. This should cause him to try to escape the room, and then slam the door behind him shut.  Or, if he, or they, get caught on the other side, so be it. My villain is not adverse to poorly executed traps that accidentally kill the opponent.  He's that kind of guy.  And since he figures that the letter may well be already a moot point and may already in the hands of the Guild Masters. But he’s also a sporting gamester and is willing to let the intruder prove himself by leaping through some hoops to survive. If so, he will have passed a crucial test, and may possibly be worth co-opting into his operations. On the condition, of course, that during the interrogation the intruder proves suitably smart, and without too much trouble ultimately co-operative and open to the idea.  If not, an grizzly end awaits.

Well, sure enough, the AAA Group made their way through the dungeon, and found the elegant study once again. The needle trap was sprung by Ishcandar as he attempted to break into the desk a second time. His finger having turned black, Lido kindly offered to dampen the pain with a swig or two of brandy. The fire trap was sprung and they both leaped from the room into the corridor. This alerted my Villain that the trap had been sprung. He readied his minions and sent them forth. Sure enough it did not take too long for them to locate the errant Hobbits and return them to the lair. Playing it cool my Villain commenced with the interrogation, and by a combination of remaining cool and relaxed, giving little information about himself, and offering refreshments including truth-drug laden brandy, as well as an assortment of delicacies, as well as subtly phrased threats regarding the untoward effects of the poison in Ishcandar’s finger… he eventually obtained all that he wished to know, as well as an agreement that the hapless Hobbit would go to the Guild and retrieve the letter. Only then would the antidote be given.

And of course, I don’t make my Villains perfect, and I make my other NPCs, who are the good guys, just as smart, and just as flawed. And so the mix goes on.

And this friends is how I play my Villains in the Elthos Campaign.  You can read the read the entire Game-Test Campaign Story in chronological order here:  Elthos Game-Test Story.  For the above mentioned Villain & Trap look for "The Hagglesmith Rescue" Parts III and IV.   Enjoy!   :)

Tricks & Traps: how to think like a Villain

Yeep!  Sorry!  

This post has been sent back to Draft, hopefully in the nick of time before any of my players notice it out here!  We have not quiiiiite finished the campaign yet, and due to some last minute changes there is now information in this post that they definitely should not see yet.

Very many apologies, but this post will be Re-Posted again, intact (with a few minor edits that I just made) as soon as the Campaign is completed!   Promise!

I will post a note indicating when this post has been re-posted.   :p  

Plz forgive me....

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Hagglesmith Rescue - Part IV

Bickering at the Door

Through the partially opened secret door the party of young adventurers peered into the room. It was a basement wine cellar lit by a two brass lamps on the south and west walls. The cellar was well stocked with shelves upon shelves of wines, bottles of various kinds of liquer, and beer kegs set against three walls, along with several large crates in the middle of the room. There were three men sitting at a round wooden card table on the other side of the room next to a bolted and heavily constructed wooden door. Heaped next against the north wall at the base of a large case of wines, were four bodies bound hand and foot with ropes. They listened in as the men played a card game.

“Hey, I thought you played that card two hands go!" said one with black hair and split lip.

"Don't be stupid. How could I do that?" replied another with brown hair and brown beard.

"Awww - he's cheatin," whined the the first.

"Shuddup. They'll be here any time now,” ordered the third one whose blond hair fell across his solders in long curls from beneath a red cap.

"Yeah yeah... kinda gives me the creeps, ya know?" said the brown haired one.

"You said it, bruthah,” replied the whiner with the black hair ruefully.

”Shuddup, I said! They'z get what they'z want (gesturing toward prisoners) and we'z gonna get the shipment we wantz, see? That's all you need to think about, ya dumb bastards,” barked the blond man.

"Alright, you da boss. Anyway, common you gonna play yer hand or what?" answered the brown haired man.

"Ok ok! But damnit, how come I keep losin!" whined the black haired one scuffing his foot under the table angrily.

"Cause yer an unlucky bastard, that's why. And waddya know... Looks like I win the pot again! Must be my lucky night,” he concluded with a wide grin.

The party stepped quietly back from the secret door, which they left cracked open a tiny bit while Jeremy peered through to alert them if any of the men at the table should happen to come there way, or doing anything else. They went a ways back up the dark corridor and started whispering furiously about what to do next. Hermel was uneasy about the idea of barging in on the men, primarily because he had realized that they actually had very little evidence to suggest that the men of the Five Crows Tavern, nor Doctor Lobe had actually done anything all that out of the ordinary or all that illegal thus far. After all, he pointed out in a hoarse whisper, the Hagglemsiths had trespassed into the basement. The fact they were tied up… well, he said, if he discovered tresspassers on his property he would very well do the same.

Lido and Ishcandar pointed out however that talk of a shipment in exchange for the captive kids sounded pretty nefarious at any rate. They agreed on that point, but Hermel still didn’t feel there was quite yet enough to warrant busting the door down and killing the card players (assuming they could even succeed in doing so!). Nevertheless, some of them wanted to bust into the room and catch the men at the card table by surprise, namely Jeremy, come what may. Hermel thought this too hasty, and noted that the Hagglesmiths had done the same, and pointed to the floor where they were laying in a heap, tied up and knocked out as they were.

"Not so great," he said.

Adding to that was the fact that Lido had traced his keen eye along the secret door's edge and noted a large heavy rope net was hung on the ceiling covering entranceway for about ten feet square. He had pointed to it, and the others had nodded. It seemed that they needed more options to consider, and so they all took to thinking.

A History Lesson

Hermel began reflecting on what he’d heard on the way to Dunn's Bridge earlier that evening as the party had woven it's way through the mazes of the Old Quarter, from Johan who had given them a little more information on Doctor Lobe and his relationship with Doctor Sniloc.

"Doctor Lobe and Doctor Sniloc were both venerated members of the Council of Science and Medicine, and the two doctors were academic rivals. Doctor Lobe had become very wealthy and famous as a physician, and was renowned for his medical skills and knowledge of science. Doctor Sniloc was equally famous for his medical skills, though his knowledge of science was considered somewhat inferior, and this was a bone of contention between them. Rumor has it that at a famous Symposium five years ago Doctor Lobe shocked his audience by claiming that he had found some "astounding artifacts" of unknown origin in hidden tunnels somewhere beneath Hobbington, and was researching their purpose. At the Symposium the following year he claimed, among other things, to have used one of the devices to create what he called 'Replicants', exact duplicates of people grown from blood or tissue samples. While they were flawed creatures, unable to live long, he said they nevertheless proved the potency of the artifacts. Some members of the Council believed that Doctor Lobe's claims were possible, and worth considering if evidence could be supplied, and were willing to give him a year more to produce tangible results. Others of the Council believed that there were no such artifacts and that he had been driven mad by some experimental mishap. Doctor Sniloc was of the opinion that while the artifacts might exist, he demanding proof. However Doctor Lobe refused to provide any concrete evidence offering only vague descriptions, theories and a few diagrams of the artifacts he claimed to have discovered. Afterwards, Doctor Sniloc convinced the Council that any ancient artifacts found beneath Hobbington would be too dangerous for private experimentation, and so the Council demanded that he hand over his research notes and the artifacts for inspection and collaborative research. He refused, denouncing the Council as myopic imbeciles, declaring that his research was far too important to be interrupted or meddled with by inferior minds. And so the Council annulled his license to practice medicine in the township, and banned him from conducting any further research. He became even more secretive from that time forward and vanished from civil society all together. Rumors circulated that he had established a secret laboratory somewhere underground, but these rumors were unsubstantiated. A lawyer by the name of Senior Borge represented his interests in the town, and the Doctor himself presumably continued with the research. A year ago he was fished out of Dunn's Brook having drowned to death, the autopsy being conducted by Doctor Sniloc. As no one knew where he had hidden the alleged artifacts, and Senior Borge denied ever having seen the artifacts, saying only that he managed the Doctors financial interests and nothing more, the Council put the matter was put to an uneasy rest. Until now. There can be little doubt that the case of Doctor Lobe's discoveries is far from closed after all."
Snapping out of his reverie, Hermel realized that the others had begun bickering, and hand wringing, about what to do next. The two Hobbits advocated returning back down the first secret corridor in order to investigate the ancient iron grill gate again. Ishcandar wanted to try his hand at picking that old lock one more time. If it could be opened the gate might lead to another exit, which he thought quite desirable since the two paths of retreat they knew about, the one through the tower basement, and the other through the secret door leading to the sewer from the elegant underground study were both blocked. One by a strange sense that the room was being strangely twisted in some kind of bizarre non-Euclidean manner, and the other by a raging fire of their own making. Either way, they had a strong desire to find an alternate exit in case all did not go well during the rescue operation. And so the Hobbits without further ado trotted back down the long corridor to the gate. Hermel wagged his head slowly, thinking to himself “those Hobbits will be the death of me, I just know it.”

Before the Hobbits left, Johan added his blessing to Ishcandar's hope to open the gate.

“May the Great Elkron above bless thee and give thee, Ishcandar, their most gracious blessing to have greater augmentation of thy crafty skill in thy attempt to breach the ancient lock of the old gate, that thou might further have access to plunder these dungeon chambers into which thou art trespassing with thy great impunity and … um… may the Elkron Bless thy sin ... and ... um ... bless thee in that, yes. If it so please the Elkron, be thou thusly blessed!” said Johan in a dignified whisper until the latter part where he sputtered along as he realized what he was asking for. The Hobbits stared at him for a few seconds, shrugged, and then plodded away into the darkness.

Back to the Gate

Down to the secret door they quietly padded on their furry little Hobbit feet. They passed by the Dunn's Bridge Tower basement, and darted a glance through that doorway, but saw nothing especially strange, except perhaps a slightly blue tinge to the color of the lamp light in the room, perhaps.  They quickly ignored it and passed into the long eighty foot corridor through the secret doorway there. Finally they passed the stairs going down to the lower level on their right where the burning study and the corridor leading to where the red door of the Five Animals Hall was located, and came at last to the end where the old iron grill gate was.  Lido held the torch while Ishcandar tried his hand at the lock again.  He cleaned his lock picking tools, brushed his hands on his coat, and tried his best not to think too hard about Johan's blessing.  As it happened this time, after a single try, the lock clicked open.  He was delighted.

With both of them pushing hard, the gate swung slowly open with a huge creaking sound. They tried opening it even more slowly to try to muffle the sound, but that almost seemed to make the creaking even worse. At any rate, they opened the gate just enough for Ishcandar to slip through. Onto the small five-foot wide platform he stepped. Before him there was a yawning darkness that descended he knew not how far. To the left was a narrow and well-worn stone stairway descending into darkness. Lido held the torch up, but the radius of light was insufficient to see into the gloom far enough to tell where it ended. Ishcandar dropped an iron coin over the edge of the platform. It seemed to fall a ways and then clinked on stone. He guessed it fell some 30 feet or so. Ishcandar made his way very slowly and softly down the stairway. It came to a landing, and then turned back the other way and continued down a second flight of stairs. One would never have known there was anyone moving in the room had they only been listening for footsteps, so quiet was Ishcandar’s gait. He followed the stairs down to the bottom, and peered out into the murky darkness.

By the light of Lido’s torch from the other side of the gate above he could see that there was another wide arched opening on the other side of the cave-like chamber that lead into another room of positively inky blackness. He looked around for his iron coin and finding it on the stone floor plunked it back into his pocket. He then bravely, and oh so quietly, made his way toward the dark gap. About half way there he decided to throw his coin through the archway into the darkness. He gave it a hefty toss, and it sailed far and then clattered ringingly along the stone floor. He paused, waited, and then began to pad silently toward the doorway again.  Then he heard something inside the far room shift as though something large had moved. Then he heard a dull thud. Then another, and another. Something heavy was shambling through the black shadow of that chamber. Ishcandar stopped dead in his tracks and turned a pale shade of green. He immediately padded his way back to the base of the stairs, where he stopped and turned around again to face the dark archway. A huge hulking shape lumbered out from beneath the archway, as though stepping out of a nightmare. It stopped momentarily and stared at the little Hobbit across the stone floor.

The creature had the body a large and brawny man with rough pinkish skin, a bulbous stomach, and a large snout with a curved yellow tusk. He wore thick studded leather armor, and in his right hand he carried a heavy knotted wooden club embedded with iron nails. His head was topped with a a forest of dense black hair cropped so it was flat across the top. His wide gaping mouth had thick red lips and large crooked yellow teeth, while the one tusk curled upward toward his snout, and ended in a savage point, speckled with dirt and blood.  Most alarming of all were the creature’s eyes. Around his head were set twelve eyes evenly spaced, black as coal, forming a circle of dark wells beneath his crop of black hair which formed monstrous eyebrow. All eyes seemed to focus on Ishcandar.

“Oh My Goodness, ...a Dodecaclopse!” he said Lido with a quiver in his voice as he looked down with horror from above.

Ishcandar didn’t waste any time, but turned and bolted up the stairs. The creature, whatever it was, suddenly bellowed loudly and lumbered across the chamber after him. Up the first flight dashed the Hobbit. The creature pursued and was gaining on him rapidly. At that moment from the middle of the second flight of stairs, Ishcandar pulled out his jar of 'Sticky Oil' he had picked up in Hagen’s supply depot at the Rat’s Den. He tossed it onto the stairs below. The bottle shattered and the thick blue-black ooze spread over the stones. When the creature put his foot on the black slick it stuck fast. He could neither extract it nor slide across it. The monster struggled mightily, pulling at his leg to try to free it. Ishcandar then politely took the torch from Lido’s hand and tossed it lightly onto the black pitch. It immediately burst into flames.

The creature bellowed with such force that dust fell from the ceiling. The Hobbits were temporarily deafened. So loud, in fact, was that roar, that all the way down the corridor, and far up the next corridor, even into the room where the men where playing cards, the violent roar made it’s way.

Reverberations in the Cellar 

“What the hell was that?” demanded the blond man who put his cards face down on the table.

“How should I know?” replied the brown haired man nervously looking toward the secret door.

“Allen, it’s your lucky day. Go check it out,” said the blond man fiercely.

And so Allen, who was not the least bit eager to do so, got up and trotted fearfully over toward the secret door, which was still cracked open a hair.

“Ixne, Ixne,” said Jeremy in a low whisper, to Hermel and Johan as he slid the secret door quietly shut. “Here comes one of them.”

Hermel rolled his eyes. “Those Hobbits are definitely going to be the death of me, I just know it,” he said under his breath as he took up a position next to the secret door and withdrew his sword. Jeremy and Johan stepped back about ten feet from the secret entrance and waited for Allen to do what he would.

Meanwhile, the two Hobbits were both delighted and terrified as the monster below continuing bellowing insanely as the flames crept along his clothing and caught his hair on fire.

“Sssshhhhh, be quite already! It doesn’t hurt that bad!” whisper-yelled Ishcandar to the creature below waving his arms to try to encourage the creature to shut up. That did not help. So the Hobbits exited the chamber, and slowly creaked the door shut, at which point the gate locked again. They were mightily relieved and stood panting while the creature caught fully on fire from head to toe, and gave out a few more horrible shrieks before falling silent.

It was then that Lido noticed a light was coming toward them from the bottom of the stairs to the left of the corridor they were now standing. They heard feet running. They made a dash for the far end of the corridor where the secret door was, but Hobbits are not so fast as men, nor did they have any light by which to see, and so it was that they found themselves quickly surrounded and captured by three grave young men with long black braided pony tails, each dressed in a black button down uniform with white cuffs. Lido looked to see if they were carrying weapons, but their hands were empty.

“Thank the Elkron you are here!” shouted Ishcandar.

“There’s a giant monster over there!” added Lido excitedly pointing toward the closed gate.

Two of the young men held each of the Hobbits, while the third looked through the gate at the smoldering hulk at the bottom of the stairs.

“The guys from the tavern sent us in here. They heard noises. We came in here and the gate was open. When we came in there was a huge monster coming up the stairs, and I threw something at it and I tried to light it on fire and we ran like hell,” said Ishcandar in a blur.

The young man holding him looked surprised. He then said in a calm voice, “Come with me.”

And so it was that the two young Hobbits were led back down the corridor toward the gate, and down the flight of stairs that lead toward the red door of the Five Animals Hall. Ishcandar felt optimistically certain that Hermel was on his way, coming to look for them, and would rescue them shortly.

The Grand Rescue

Far up the corridor and around two bends and through a secret door Hermel and Johan stared down the long corridor in the direction of the of the roaring, now mercifully ended.

“That was no Hobbit,” said Johan quietly. “I think we should go check it out,” he concluded. Jeremy nodded in agreement.

“Jeremy, let us not forget why we are here,” whispered Hermel. “Lets not forget your friends the Hagglesmiths,” he said darting an eye toward the secret door that lead into the Five Crows Tavern cellar. “I think the greater good is here,” he concluded.

“So we’re going to rescue the Hagglesmiths then?” asked Jeremy hopefully.

“Shhhh, be quiet, Jeremy. There are men in the room who are coming this way. We must be prepared for them,” he said. Jeremy nodded and looked toward the door.

Hermel tested the fine unused edge of his sword against his thumb, and stepped a little further back into the corner of the corridor to conceal himself. He planned to ambush anyone who might come through.

“Be brave,” said Johan, after casting a powerful invocation known as Iron Skin on Hermel.

There was a click at the secret door. Light came streaming through as the door slid open. A man was standing in the doorway peering out into the darkness. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust while Johan prepared an invocation of mystical power. Jeremy stood close behind him and peered out from the side, hardly visible to the man at the door who when he saw Johan stopped in his tracks with a surprised look on his face.

“We’re here for the prisoners,” said Johan to the man at the door.

“Who are you?” asked the man flummoxed at the site of the old gentleman.

“What does it matter who I am? Just give me the prisoners so we can finish our business and be on our way,” replied Johan sternly.

“Boss, some guy says he's come for the prisoners,” called the man over his shoulder into the room.

“Who is he?” came a voice from within the room.

“I don’t know,” said the black haired man.

“Tell 'em to come in,” said the voice from the room.

“The boss says you can come in,” said the man nodding his head toward the room.

“There’s some kind of ruckus going on down the corridor. Let’s hurry this up. We don’t want any mistakes,” said Johan coolly.

“Boss, he says there’s trouble down the corridor and he’s in a rush.”

“Get the package,” said the voice from the room harshly.

“Gimme the package,” said the man.

“We dropped the package, when we got attacked back there,” replied Johan.

“Boss, he says he dropped the package when he got attacked back there,” called the black haired man into the room. They heard chairs moving in the room, and footsteps were heard walking toward them. Two men showed up at the secret door. The first was tall with blond hair, another short with brown hair and a beard. The blond man spoke first.

“Who the hell are you?” he demanded when he saw Johan.

“What difference – “ Johan was saying when the man interrupted him harshly.

“No – who the HELL are YOU?!” he shouted. “I don’t know you! Where the hell did you come from?”

“You deal with the people who sent me,” replied Johan trying to maintain his cool composure.

“Yeah? Ok. Who’s that?” asked the blond man with a raised eyebrow.

At this point Johan could no longer contain himself, and sputtered with surprise at the unanswerable question. Fortunately he had prepared a response quietly before the secret door had opened. With both hands raised he unleashed the power of his mystical energies into an invocation of the Elkron known as 'The Divine Strike', which he aimed at the closest man standing in the doorway.

The black haired man, whose name happens to have been Allen Wainsilver, a disagreeable and unlucky wretch since youth, looked upward, and with an unworldly anguished, almost plaintive cry, fell to the ground as though smote by some great invisible hammer.

“Lets stop fooling around and give me the hostages so we can get this over with,” said Johan firmly.

The blond man stepped back away from the door, shoving at the brown haired man ahead of him into the corridor.

“Get him!” rasped the blond man as he backed away.

The brown haired man lurched toward Johan with a dagger in his hand. As he lurched through the door Hermel struck at him from the shadows, attacking him from behind toward his flank. It was a devastating cut, splattering blood across the floor and crumpling the man to one knee. Johan stepped forward and kicked the man in the chest. Up into the air he was lofted, and flying through the open doorway landed full on his back with a thud and passed out.

The party followed quickly after into the room, and found that the blond man had already made it half way to the door on the other side.

Without hesitation Hermel raced across the room, leaped over a crate, and grappled the man before he could get to the bolted door that most probably lead up stairs to the Five Crows Tavern.

Meanwhile, Jeremy immediately ran to the Hagglesmiths lying on the floor in a heap, apparently unconscious. He found Janet and began tearing away at the rope knots binding her hands while trying to wake her up. Very groggily she came around, and opened her eyes blearily.

“Oh hi Jeremy, have you come to rescue us? How grand,” she said weakly with a vague smile.

Subduing the Enemy

The blond man turned to face Hermel with his back to the door, and slashed at him with the broadsword he had grabbed off of the crate next to the card table. The blow glanced off of Hermel’s armor, which had been augmented by the Iron Skin invocation Johan had cast on him earlier. Hermel launched at him with a savage blow to the neck, but at the point where the sword would have slashed into his collar bone, he held back, and with his other hand shoved the unbalanced man to his knees, effectively subduing him, saying “Stop resisting now, and I will let you live.”

The man, Charles Rook, a notorious cutthroat, dropped his sword and held his hands up in a show of submission. “Ok, ok! You got me,” he said with resigned exasperation.

Having freed Janet, Jeremy hustled over to the next Hagglesmith and began untying Jorus, who was also unconscious. Johan meanwhile, feeling rather proud of himself, was surveying the room with satisfaction. A calendar fell from the wall and fluttered to the ground. From the calendar a few pages fluttered out and slid across the floor on a wind that had picked up in the room. Johan looked at the window. It was closed. He noticed leaves swirling around the floor of the room, and cobwebs in the corners began to flutter. He walked over and picked up one of the pages of the calendar from the floor where it had wedged itself between a crate and the floor boards. He got a strange feeling as he noticed that the calendar was for the wrong year. In fact it showed the month of November, but of a several decades past. A chill ran up his spine, but he didn’t know exactly why. Old calendars are not really all so uncommon, after all. At the same time Hermel decided it would be safer to tie up Charles, who though protesting, saw fit to allow it, since he had no choice, given that a sword was being held to his throat. He tied him to the chair.

The Bizarre Convergence

The yellow flame of a brass lamp on the wall next to the bolted door suddenly lit itself. Johan looked out the window again. He no longer felt quite sure if it should be dark outside, or light. He could not seem to remember what time of day it should be. It was, in fact, dark outside. The wind in the room swirled leaves across the floor as the cobwebs in the corners billowed strangely. The window was closed. Johan shuddered involuntarily.

Hermel walked over to the henchman with the brown hair who was still lying bleeding on the floor. His name, by the way, was Bren Wallowcats; a cheat and liar he’d been since his earliest years. Hermel bent down and using his mystic power of 'Earth Healing', put his hands on the man’s wound, and with a stone he’d pulled from a pouch in his pocket in his right hand, invoked the Elkron of the Earth, Minvar, to heal the villain. There seemed a golden glow for a few moments; the man began to breath more evenly, and the blood began to flow less as the gaping gash in his side closed up wherever the stone touched it. He closed his eyes, and thanked Hermel under his breath.

Jeremy moved to the next Hagglesmith, having freed and wakened Jorus, and began to untie Brox, who was also unconscious. While he did this Johan noticed that dust had begun to cover the crates, and shelves of all the wine racks in the room. He also noticed that there was a subtle blue tinge coming through the doorway where the secret door was still open, though he could see no light in the corridor beyond. It almost seemed to him that there was something oddly curved about the doorway. He couldn’t really tell what it was that made him think so, but it gave him a queasy feeling to look at it. Lying on the floor across the open secret doorway was Allen Wainsilver, still unconscious. He seemed lit by the mysterious blue light.

At this point Johan was staring through the doorway into the darkness beyond. He began to feel a cold sweat forming on his forehead. He decided to pull Allen away from the doorway, though it was one of the most unpleasant tasks he’d ever assigned to himself as the cold sweat turned into a positive chill and he began to shiver. Pulling the man from the door, Johan rested him against a crate, still staring horrified down the long dark corridor.

Sensing that there was something quite wrong with the look on Johan’s face, Hermel walked to the secret door and took a careful look into the darkness. A fly buzzed around his head, but Hermel did not notice it at all. At first he could not see anything as it was pitch black, despite the light streaming through from the room. Then, just has he thought there was nothing there, he saw something moving. It appeared to be a black miasma of some kind, like an undulating cloud of dark mist. And in the center of it he saw an even blacker object, like a shadow within a shadow. It approached, but whatever it was made absolutely no sound at all. It came closer though he found it very difficult to tell how far away it was. Hermel began to distinguish an outline the dark figure within the shadow. It was, he believed, a knight in black platemale walking silently up the corridor towards him, the black miasma surrounding him like a cloak. Meanwhile Jeremy was freeing the last of the Hagglesmiths, young Rory, who remained unconscious despite Jeremy's best efforts to wake him.

"I think we should close... the door ... here ... now ...," said Hermel.

“You!” said Johan to Charles who was tied up in the chair, “how do we close the secret door?”

At that moment the lamp on the wall turned off, and then turned on, and repeated that twice. Charles observed this with a sudden concealed interest.

“Finally,” he said under his breath with a wry smile. “You turn the lamp handle,” he said aloud, jerking his head toward the lamp that had lit itself on the wall. Johan walked up to the lamp, turned the base, and the secret door in front of Hermel slid silently closed. There was no sense of relief in the room whatsoever for that. There was, however, another click heard in the room, and a completely unforeseen secret door on the south wall slid open revealing yet another corridor, from which was emanating the flickering light of torches and the sounds of footsteps approaching.

As the leaves danced across the floor of the room in long prancing swirls, and the calendar pages fluttered past, while the cobwebs billowed wildly in the corners, Johan noticed a pale blue mist had begun gathering along the edges of every wall. Jeremy, having freed the Hagglesmiths (who were now beginning to stand up in various stages of groggy turpitude, except for Rory), wondered what would happen next. As he gazed toward the now closed secret door with the blue tinge and oddly warping seams, he wondered to himself, “What ever became of those nice Hobbits, after all? I do hope they are ok.”


Previous Episode: The Hagglesmith Rescue - Part III
Next Episode: The Hagglesmith Rescue - Part V

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Views of Dunn's Bridge

For a lark, to teach myself how to use Sketchup mostly, I decided to create what the players know of Dunn's Bridge in 3D. These are the results thus far:

Overview of Underground

A view from across the bridge facing Five Crows Tavern.  The fully viewable tower is Tower 1, where the party entered.

A view of Dunn's Bridge from the manhole cover that leads into the sewers, through which the players entered the secret Study of Doctor Lobe, and the Laboratory.

Dunn's Bridge at dusk from beyond the manhole cover facing the direction of Five Crows Tavern (the small building on the right side of the street across from Tower 1).

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

RPG Carnival November 2011 - Summary

Thank you very much to everyone who participated in this challenging topic! We heard from a handful of intrepid GMs who offered their insights and advice on how to think like a villain in your campaign. Here’s a brief recap:

Runeslinger: wrote "Cracking Open the Skull of Evil" with a focus on Horror-Genre villains, Runeslinger offers his considerations of the villain’s motivations and provides some great examples to illustrate what he means.

http://runeslinger.wordpress.com/2011/11/09/cracking-open-the-skull-of-evil-11-2011-blog-carnival/

Berin Kinsman: over on Dire Blog, Berin accepted the challenge with  “The Indifference Trap”, in which he focuses on how to think about Traps that the GM’s Villains might spring on their Player Characters. Traps must serve a purpose: to guard things, to give an opponent tactical advantage, and to capture players without killing them.  Great insights!

http://berinkinsman.wordpress.com/2011/11/07/rpg-blog-carnival-the-indifference-trap/

Lee at HouseRule wrote "Players Have All the Answers": A short but sweet post on his thoughts regarding traps. A key bit of advice here is to not lock your Players into a trap that corners them hopelessly… give them choices along the way. And provide a sense of urgency as you do it.  Worthwhile advice!

http://www.houserule.com/?p=384

Satyre at Satyrlite wrote ‘Villainous Psychology – traps & tricks’ a well organized overview of methods and motives for trap building with great examples. Method, Motive, Opportunity are the subject titles. Well worth the read!

http://satyrelite.blogspot.com/2011/11/villainous-psychology-traps-tricks.html

Desyth at DrunkDM wrote a post “Tricks & Traps” that focuses on a series of really killer traps. Lots of fun and great fodder for ideas!

http://www.drunkdm.com/campaignworkshop/itemsandtraps/november-2011-rpg-carnival-tricks-traps/

Runeslinger followed up with a second post, “A Penticle of Trapping”, which focuses on the second side of my question: the traps, in which he explains the five principals of trapping. This set of principals is where you want to be as a Villain-Thinker. Great ideas.

http://runeslinger.wordpress.com/2011/11/15/a-pentacle-of-trapping/

Michael Schultz at LateToTheParty wrote about his bad guys, how they think and how they function. Most villains, in fact, don’t consider themselves villains – they’re driven by passions, but they rarely say to themselves “I’m evil, mwhahaha”. Bringing realism and depth to your villains is a great idea!

http://latetotheparty.ca/?p=547

Fitz at Game Knight Reviews posted “Thankful for Gleeful Villains” some interesting advice on letting your villains have fun with their wretched diabolical plots. After all, if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing… why do it?  LOL!

http://www.gameknightreviews.com/2011/11/the-gassy-gnoll-thankful-for-gleeful-villains-rpg-blog-carnival-tricks-traps/

IronWolf at IronTavern wrote his entry “Thinking like a villain: tricks & traps” and discusses how to provide balance in the pursuit of villainy. After all, if villains are as smart as the GM (ie – omniscient) then the Player Characters may never survive. So it behooves to consider villains as characters of depth, and offers his advice and observations on the topic, as well as two great examples of two types of villains.  Great!

http://irontavern.com/2011/11/25/thinking-like-a-villain-tricks-traps/

Again - Thank you everyone for some really great ideas and examples!

And as for my own thoughts, I will post them soon in another post.   For now I leave you with a small poem that washed up on the shore of a desolate beach in Elthos one day, written in bloody script, doubtless by the hand of a Player Character who'd been done in at last by his Villainous foes...


Down, down, down
to the Hilts of their swords
they will strive...
till all but their anguish 
lies dead and forgotten
in the sands of time

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

November 2011 RPG Carnival: Tricks & Traps

Tricks & Traps, or How to think like a Villain. 

This month's RPG Carnival is being hosted here on Elthos RPG.  The way you participate is to write a blog entry (or two, or three, etc) on your own blog that answers the question raised by the RPG Carnival topic, and then post a link to your post in my comments page here on Elthos RPG.   

At the end of the month I will write up a summary recap of the posts entered and we'll all have a merry time of it!  The ultimate Archive for all of the RPG Carnivals is being held at Nevermet Press, so you can go there to look for previous (and future) RPG Carnival links.  Ok, ready?  Here we go!

Setting up challenges for RPG Player Characters that make sense in terms of the story is a matter of thinking “What would the villain *really* do?” Learning to think like your villain is a bit tricky because if you think too well then your players may not survive very long, but if you don’t think enough …well, it is just too damn easy. What Tricks-n-Traps have your villains set for those who dare impinge on their turf, or interfer with their nepharious plots? Did the PCs live or die, …or something far far worse?! 

Have at it, Mates!   :)


As for me, I take a lot of time between games thinking about what my villains are up to.  Sometimes I discover that old ideas from last week don't really measure up.   Sometimes I realize that the villain has thought about something so well that should he put his plan into effect the PCs would definitely be doomed.   I'm also always trying to comb my campaign's hair by working out the kinks and smoothing the complexities.   One of the things I have found that helps is to keep a board (yup a regular old cork board) with little bits of paper tacked to it that show each villain (actually all protagonists and antagonists in the current campaign), as well as key places, in relative proximity to each other.   This helps me a lot to remember who is where, especially when there are multiple NPCs who are each having some effect on the Campaign back story, and sometimes have links to one another.

All of which is helpful when I'm designing my tricks and traps.  For me the key, really, is to not let things get *too* complicated.   There is a sweet spot somewhere between intriguing and holy-freaking-cow-what-the-hell-just-happenned.   Finding that sweet spot is like finding just the right herbs to add to your soup.  The right mix, and the soup tastes great.  Too much is just as insufficient as too little.   And this is really why Gamesmastering, regardless of system or tools, is not merely a technical activity, but also very much an art.

At some point during the Carnival I'll post something about one of the villains in Elthos, the tricks and traps he created, how my players reacted to them, and how I feel that the Campaign succeeded in it's goal of creating an entertaining story by keeping things not too complicated, but far from simple, too.  Villains, I think, should pose significant challenges for Player Characters, but not be so smart, so knowledgeable, and so freaking powerful that the PC's have no chance.  It is kind of a tough balance, actually, and it requires some finesse and artistry on the part of the GM.   What's your technique?

I look forward to reading your posts!

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Hagglesmith Rescue – Part III

Doctor Lobe, I Presume

The echo of twelve gongs of the clock reverberated throughout the tower and faded. At the top of the stairs on the third floor landing crouched Ishcandar, Lido, and the two Jeremies peering through the slit in the door that Ishcandar had ever so carefully and quietly cracked open using the skeleton key he has pilfered from Yakov. Behind them, at the bottom of the stairs holding the second floor door closed was Hermel. Next to him stood Johan holding a torch. The air was chilly, and there they all had a strange feeling about the tower though none of them could put their finger on exactly what it was.

In the large open chamber a tall lanky man wearing a white lab coat and gloves with long black hair flowing over his shoulders and a pot-marked face was passing beneath the glowing green crystals of an ornate chandelier hanging from the ceiling.  He was walking toward an enormous wooden table on which were stacks of books, papers and peculiar looking equipment consisting of glass tubes, flames, meters, dials and blinking lights, among other things. He held a candle in his left hand while reading the leather bound tome in his right arm. He had not noticed eight sets of eyes peering at him. Lido could barely make out the title of the book, but managed to read along the spine its red letters, “Radio Telemetry”, which though he could read, he could not quite comprehend.  Meanwhile Ishcandar was scanning the rest of the room looking for things to steal. His greedy eyes landed on a strange device on a desktop further beyond the table beneath the window that overlooked Dunn’s Brook three stories below. The device was a square wooden box with a metallic circular rod connected to the top. It was about twelve inches across and eight inches high, while the rod on which the metal circle rested was approximately six inches tall, and the metal circle itself had a diameter of twelve inches.  There were dials and knobs, meters, switches and lights on a side panel of the box. The circular metal bar appeared to be rotating slowly while red, blue and greens lights were blinking in slow unison. Ishcandar eyed the room from every angle to determine exactly how he might get to the box without Doctor Lobe noticing him. He could, he thought, either try to slip between the table and the wall, or he could try sneaking through the stacks of books and come out on the other side of the room near the desk. Either way appeared to him to be very risky. He needed a diversion; one that in fact never quite came.

Meanwhile, downstairs Hermel and Johan were listening at the door to the second level. Nothing stirred. Hermel contemplated hammering the door shut with an iron spike, but it seemed to him that this would make entirely too much noise. He tried the door handle, but found that it had locked behind them after they had entered the stairway. With nothing else to try they waited and listened at the door at the bottom of the stairs. The other party members had already entered the third story chamber and confronted the man, whom they presumed was Doctor Lobe.

Ischandar swung the door open, and said “Doctor Lobe, my good man!” and stepped into the room.

“Who are you?” said Doctor Lobe looking up from his book with an expression of mild surprise and annoyance.

“We are friends in need, Doctor. We have a a young man here whom we believe you know, and who happens to be quite ill,” replied Ishcandar, pulling Jeremy, who was still carrying Jeremeze, forward into the room.

“This boy needs your care,” said Lido.

“I see,” replied Doctor Lobe, looking over at the young boys squarely. “Hello Jeremy,” he said without emotion. “How did you get in here?” he asked of Ishcandar and Lido.

“The boy needed your help, and we came in with him to make sure that he got it,” replied Lido firmly.

“I see,” replied the Doctor. “Bring him here to the table then,” said the Doctor clearing a space on the large stone table before them. Jeremy put the boy on the table, and stepped aside as the Doctor came and took his pulse. He gave a brief assuring glance to the young lad laying there looking up at him. The Doctor gave the young fellow a thorough examination, and then announced with a sigh that he was quite damaged, and expressed some regret at this with a sigh.

The Inquisition Begins

“What caused the damage?” asked Lido.

The Doctor paused. He turned toward Lido, and then said with a calm voice, “I do not know precisely at the moment. I will need time to examine him properly. However, it looks as though, at the least, he has been poisoned.”

“When was the last time you saw him?” asked Ishcandar, trying not to sound overly inquisitive.

The Doctor paused again. After a moment he said, “I’m going to have to ask you people to leave now. I have a pressing schedule and a great deal of work to do. But I want thank you for bringing the boy. I will attend to him now.  You may go.”

Jeremy stared at the Doctor with a whistful look, hoping he would take notice of him, which he did not.

“Are you aware that the rest of the world thinks your dead?” asked Lido pointedly.

“Really,” replied the Doctor with a slightly mocking emphasis and a cryptic smile. “What the rest of the world thinks could not interest me less.”

“So you did not do anything to make them believe you are dead,” asked Lido.

“I am working on my research, gentlemen… I hardly have interest in the rumors that may spill over from –”, he was saying when Ishcandar coughed quite deliberately and loudly the word “Hagglesmiths!” into his hands as if he'd sneezed.

The Doctor raised an eyebrow, but otherwise made no particular motion. While Lido scrutinized the Doctor's reaction carefully, Ishcandar then took a look around the room for anything that might be of interest… anything unusual. His eyes alighted on the small wooden desk on the other side of the room below the window on which was sitting the strange looking square box with the circular metal rod rotating above it. Several of the lights were blinking, now a little faster than before.  He considered how he might venture his way to it without attracting attention, but it seemed the Doctor’s hawk-like eyes would not allow for such a move.

Meanwhile, Lido pressed on with his line of questioning. “We have been sent to search for several friends of Jeremy’s ... you do remember him?” he began, but the Doctor said nothing, and so he continued, “And it seems that they were last seen in or around this Tower.  Do you have any knowledge of their whereabouts, sir?”

“I’m afraid I can not help you with that,” said the Doctor sternly.  He began to grow impatient. Ishcandar was edging his way next to the table, hoping to evade detection, on his way toward the desk with the strange device. Doctor Lobe gave him a withering glance and Ishcandar tried to look nonchalant as he sidled back to where he was.

Lido scanned the bookshelves hoping to read the names of any volumes. From what he could see all of them had scientific or medical titles. It was an impressive library. Lido was contemplating the idea that perhaps Doctor Lobe was not of this era in time, and was hoping to see evidence that might confirm his suspicion. After all, they had noticed that time seemed to be flowing somehow unusually fast, as they all felt somehow that it could not possibly have been midnight by that time. Surely only an hour or perhaps two had passed since they left the Guild Hall at 7pm?  But midnight?  Impossible, they thought.  The additional odd fact was that Jeremy had said earlier that he himself had also met the Doctor for the first and only time at the stroke of midnight on Dunn’s Bridge. However, since he could not place his finger on anything specific, he put thoughts aside for the moment.

Time Runs Short

“Perhaps he is a time traveler of some sort,” he whispered to Ishcandar, “but such knowledge won’t help us if he turns out to also be a cold blooded killer.  We’re inside the tower of a mad scientist of one sort or another, and maybe the ghost of a mad scientist at that!   Best to be careful, I should think.”

“If you can take his attention away from me for enough time, perhaps I can sneak behind him and make my way to the desk and carry off that gizmo over there,” whispered Ishcandar to Lido with a quick nod of the head in that direction.

“Gentlemen,” said the Doctor suddenly. “Time is running short. It would not be safe for you to remain here much longer.”

“Are you saying we are in danger?” asked Lido.

“Indeed, that is precisely what I am saying,” replied the Doctor, “and I suggest you leave immediately. I will take care of the boy, you need not worry.”

“Are you saying we are in danger from you? Or something else?” pressed Lido trying to obtain as much information as he could.

“The tower itself, frankly. Again, I must stress… there is little time left, you should depart,” replied the Doctor with a slight air of amusement that Lido found most disturbing. “I have warned you. I would heed that warning if I were you.”

“I suspect he knows what he is talking about,” whispered Lido to Ishcandar. “And thus far he has not said anything incriminating. By appearances thus far, he seems to be a trustworthy person. Perhaps we should heed his advice.”

“What is that over there?” Ishcandar suddenly asked Doctor Lobe pointing to the strange device on the desk below the window.

“That, my young Hobbit, is a Radio Frequency Triangulator,” replied the doctor as he turned his attention toward the device with considerable relish.

“What does it do?” asked Ishcandar.

“It triangulates radio frequencies, of course,” replied the doctor impatiently and with some disappointment in his voice.  It seemed these lads were not as bright as the Doctor might have hoped.

“Could you give us a demonstration?” asked Ishcandar.

“I’m afraid there is no time left for that now,” replied the Doctor.

“You keep saying that. But you’re here, we’re here… why is there not enough time?” asked Ishcandar.

“If you remain you will unfortunately discover the answer to your question,” replied the Doctor with a sigh.

“Well, what happens if you remain here?”

“I belong here,” the Doctor replied flatly.

“Is this tower going to go somewhere?” asked Lido as he looked around the chamber for any discernable changes.

“I’m not at liberty to say,” replied the Doctor firmly. “Now if you please, I highly recommend for you to depart now.”

The Hermel Gambit

Meanwhile, downstairs Hermel told Johan to stay at the door while ascended to the top of the stairs. Johan took a wide-eyed look and replied that he would much prefer to accompany him and followed behind. When they got to the top they could hear the tail end of the conversation in the chamber outside the door. He was curious as to why the Doctor was suggesting that there was little time and that everyone should leave.

“Did the Hagglesmiths ever find out why it is unsafe in the Tower?” asked Lido pointedly.

The Doctor gave him a stony look, finally seeming to have come to the end of his patience, and said simply, “I told you, I can not help you with that. And who is that?” asked the Doctor pointing to Hermel who had just stepped through the door.

“Hi, I am Hermel. What’s going on?” he replied reaching out his hand to shake Doctor Lobe's hand. The doctor veered away, and so Hermel's hand only brushed his lab coat instead.  It was solid enough, he thought, putting to rest the idea that the man might in fact be a ghost.   He was not.

“The Doctor was about to answer my question as to whether or not the Hagglesmiths found out why the Tower is so dangerous,” said Lido to Hermel.

“As I said earlier, my inquisitive Hobbit, I can not help you with that,” replied the Doctor with a stony glare.

“Before we go,” said Ishcandar, “would you tell us what you intend to use the Radio Frequency Triangulator for?”

“I don’t have an exact plan for it at the moment. I am studying the device. It is quite fascinating,” replied the Doctor, again shifting his attention across the room to the device with keen interest. The lights on its front panel were rapidly blinking blue, red and green.

“It’s not yours? Where did you get it?” asked Ishcandar.

“That is none of your business,” said the Doctor sternly.

“How much would it cost for me to buy it?” asked Ishcandar.

“I don’t know yet. I am not finished conducting my research,” said the Doctor.

“Why are children are missing around here?” asked Hermel.

“I can’t say,” replied the Doctor, taken momentarily by surprise. Meanwhile, Ishcandar began to make his way toward the library stacks.

“I wouldn’t go there, if I were you,” said the Doctor to Ishcandar as soon as he noticed his movements.

“I can’t read a book?” asked Ishcandar innocently.

“This is a private Library. The answer is no. You can not,” replied the Doctor.

“Doctor Lobe, are you aware that you are dead?” asked Hermel.

“I can assure you I’m not dead,” replied the Doctor again losing patience.

“Well, so you say. But we have it on good authority that you are dead,” answered Hermel matter of factly.

“I can assure you that I’m a better authority on whether or not I’m alive than anyone else,” replied the Doctor dismissively.

“Do you know Rothmon?” asked Ishcandar.

“I hate to repeat myself again, but you are almost out of time. Please leave now,” said the Doctor pointing to the door.

“What time is it?” asked Lido.

“Time for you to leave,” answered the Doctor with a grave tone pointing an open hand toward the door.

“How much time do we have left?” asked Ishcandar, now glancing around the chamber looking for any changes that would suggest what the tower might have in store for them.

“When the time is right, you will know,” replied the Doctor cryptically with a subtle smile.

“This doctor is a riddle within a riddle,” said Ishcandar to Lido and Hermel.

“I will stay here, and you guys go fetch Mythander and bring him here,” said Hermel suddenly launching a new tactic.

“Oh Mythander, certainly. Perfect. He will be able to sort this out,” said Lido, going along with the ruse.  There was, of course, no Mythander.  Hermel made him up on the spot.

“Yes, and he knows quite a lot about Radio Frequencies and Triangulations,” added Ishcandar taking a swig from his brandy bottle, and suddenly feeling quite a bit in better spirits.

“I find it very strange that you do not want to help us find missing children,” said Hermel to Doctor Lobe emphatically. “I find it very strange that the authorities think you are dead. I find it all very strange, sir.”

“It is no concern of mine what you find strange,” replied the Doctor coolly.

“It will be your concern when the authorities come knocking on your door. You will have to deal with that,” answered Hermel. For the first time the Doctor seemed nonplussed.  He glanced around the room nervously.

“Ok, you guys go, and I’ll stay here with the Doctor until you return with Mythander,” said Hermel, and then turning to Doctor Lobe added, “Unless you are willing to help us find lost children… you don’t have any objection to finding lost children do you?”

“There is no time left for that now,” answered the Doctor who was continuing to look around the chamber nervously. Had anyone noticed that the green chandelier hanging from the ceiling had grown a bit brighter, no one mentioned.  “For the last time, I must insist you people leave at once. If you don’t, I can not be held responsible for the consequences.”

“But you are responsible,” said Hermel.

“No, I’m not,” replied the Doctor, once again assuming his wry smile briefly. “I have warned you several times to leave. You are trespassing on private property. What befalls you therefore is not my responsibility. I am quite certain that the law will agree with me.”

The slight amusement shown on the face of Doctor Lobe gave them all pause. He seemed to know something that they didn’t know, and his attitude about it was more disturbing to them than anything else.

Hermel began to channel his inner life force into a skill he had learned recently at the Guild… Danger Sense. It is a mystical ability that allows him to sense the direction in which dangerous thoughts are manifesting. He felt a vague sense of danger all around them. Another sense of danger below them. And a sense of danger on the other side of the book cases, which was the area of the chamber out of view. It was these factors that lead him to conclude that perhaps the Doctor was right, and it was probably a good idea to leave after all. Interestingly, he noted, he did not get any sense of danger from Doctor Lobe himself.

“Oh boy,” he said. “If I stay here will I die?”

“Not necessarily,” said the Doctor.

“Will I regret it?” he asked.

“Most definitely, I'm sure,” said the Doctor.

“Forever?” asked Hermel with a quiver in his voice.

“Until you die.”

“How long will that be?”

“I can not say,” said the Doctor raising an eyebrow. “You are very nearly out of time.”

The Hasty Departure

“Did you find out what happens when time runs out?” asked Lido.

“Yes. Yes I did,” replied the Doctor who at that moment took on a distant look that conveyed something of horror and deep curiosity.

“Ok! That’s good enough for me! I think we should leave now, friends,” concluded Lido suddenly.

As the two Hobbits turned to leave, and Hermel eyed the book stacks planning a desperate and probably stupid move, Jeremy spoke up for the first time.

“Doctor Lobe, can’t I be your assistant now?”

“No, Jeremy, not now,” replied the Doctor as he held his hand out toward the door. “It’s time for you to go.”

Jeremy was crushed.  His hope was to stay as Doctor Lobe's assistant so that he could make sure that Jeremeze was healed and made whole.  Lido saw his expression and returned quickly, took him by the hand, and offered consoling words to the effect that Doctor Lobe would take good care of Jeremeze, and that it truly was time to leave.  Jeremy followed him reluctantly, turning to look behind him one last time at his twin laying on the table.  And with this, the Hobbits and Jeremy exited the room, Ishcandar taking a final longing look towards the Radio Frequency Triangulator on the desk, noting that the lights were blinking in a rapid fire red, blue and green blur.

As they left the chamber, Hermel made a quick sudden dash for the bookcases. He wanted to see what the source of the danger was on the other side, thinking that this would lead him to understand who was behind Doctor Lobe’s activities. The books on the shelves whizzed past as he ran, and finally he came to the end of the row and stopped before peering around the corner of the bookcase. There he saw standing just off to the side, Yakov in his white lab coat. He seemed to have stepped off of a five sided metal plate on the floor that Hermel glimpsed as a purple curtain drew closed concealing it from view. Yakov immediately noticed Hermel and began to walk brisky toward him, his hunch back rolling along as he heaved his body forward erratically. That was enough for Hermel. He cut and ran back the way he came, wished the Doctor a nice day, and ran through the door and down the stairs. Everyone was clustered at the bottom waiting for him, and he only said that he was being chased by Yakov to inspire Ishcandar to use the key to open the door and get them into the empty chamber on the second floor. Hermel still felt danger below them, and around them, and above them now. He suggested they try their luck downstairs. So they ran to the next door, Ishcandar opened it with the key, and they ran down another flight of stairs.

At the door on the first floor of the tower they stopped again.  It was locked. Hermel listened at the door, as did the others, but they heard nothing. Ishcandar used the key and the cracked the door open. Inside this chamber on the otherwise empty floor they saw several red toads, about the size of a man’s fist with long curved yellow tusks, rows of orange spots down their spiny backs, and pairs of yellowish eyes. Hermel was only just able to throw his shield in front of himself when the closest toad leaped.  It landed with a splat on the shield’s face, and as it slid down it belched a sulfurous plume of black smoke. They stepped back into the room, and closed the door to a crack again. Hermel counted five such toads on the floor of the room, and estimated there were more along the walls, and so they decided that this way was too dangerous to risk. That left the last way open to them; a flight of stairs going down into darkness...

Oddities in the Basement

Having decided that attempting to exit through the Tower’s front door would be too dangerous, the party ventured down the flight of stairs to the basement level.  There they found an octagonal stone walled room lit by a gas lantern on the north wall.  The door clicked shut behind them.

“This is where I came with the Hagglesmiths before they were captured,” said Jeremy.  “The tunnel is straight ahead.  If you turn the dial on that lamp it will open the sliding door.”

Since he knew the way to open the secret panel they didn’t delay.  Hermel went to the unlit lantern on the south wall and turned it clockwise as Jeremy instructed.  Sure enough there was a click, and a panel of stone slid sideways to reveal a tunnel.  The tunnel was dark. 

In the meantime Ishcandar and Lido checked the room for any items of interest, and what they found were a set of crates neatly stacked on the floor.  Ishcandar opened one with his handy crowbar and pulling away the straw stuffing found inside sets of components that looked like parts of machines of some kind.   He could not tell what they were, or what they could possibly be used for, but he grabbed as many as would fit in his backpack and stuffed them in.  Lido meanwhile was looking around for anything else of interest, but the only objects in the room were the crates.

Having finished there, they decided to continue into the tunnel in the hopes that they would finally be able to locate the Hagglesmiths, now that they were actually on their trail.  Lido, with his map making skills was able to ascertain that the tunnel ahead should in all likelihood lead into the basement of the Five Crows Tavern across the street from the Bridge.  He also decided it would be wise to check for traps along the way down the dark tunnel, and indeed within ten feet of the door he located what looked to be another gas lantern trigger.  He began to notice that some of the gas lantern fixtures were worn on the bottom side, which he now took as an indicator that they were in fact triggers of some sort.  They decided to try it.

Onward into Darkness

Uncertain whether or not the lantern would trigger a trap or a secret door, Hermel motioned for the others to move further down the tunnel while he tried the trigger.  It turned, there was a click, and another panel of stone slid to the side on the opposite side of the corridor from the lantern.   Hermel, surprised, quickly turned and threw his shield up on that side, however, the door opened onto a long dark corridor in which there was nothing but silence.   After a few moments everyone began to breath again.

The group had a protracted discussion as to all of the factors involved thus far, including their primary goal which was to find the Hagglesmiths, as well as their secondary goal to discover and map the underground tunnels beneath Dunn’s Bridge.  They decided to explore the long corridor.   To safeguard their way of retreat Hermel thought it would be wise to take some crates from the Tower’s basement room and block the secret door with them so it would remain open.  However, when he turned around to reenter the room he got a strange feeling that all was not right somehow.  The room seemed oddly shifted in a very peculiar way as though everything in it, the walls, the light, the crates, even the air itself were somehow being very slowly twisted into a kind of bizarre multi-dimensional vortex.  On top of that odd impression, he noticed that the light in the room had become a shade of blue that signified something was happening there that stopped him in his tracks. As he looked the strange twisting continued to deepen, and he began to feel a sense of nausea.   As soon as he felt that he turned away with a sudden twist, and waked the ten feet or so back to where the party was crouching at the head of the newly opened long corridor peering into the darkness.

“I think we should leave the Tower room alone,” said Hermel quietly.   Since he could not articulate what had happened to the basement room, nor was he sure he hadn’t imagined it somehow, he simply said that something odd was happening there, and they left it at that. 

The Lido bravely crept down the long stone corridor alone, having been selected to scout it out in advance of the rest of the party.  Silently as possible he slinked along by the flickering light of his torch, poking the wall stones for any hint of traps, and went on for eighty feet at which point he stopped in front of a large stone archway.  This was sealed off by a huge iron gate whose bars extended from floor to ceiling, beyond which he saw a narrow landing with stairs going down to the left, and beyond that cavernous darkness.  To the right, however, there was an open section of corridor that lead to a stairway going down another twenty feet.  He examined the gate, on which he found a very old style lock, very sturdy, which sealed the gate shut.  Lido decided to go back and bring Ishcandar, who had the key he’d pilfered from Yakov which had opened all the doors in the tower thus far.  However, this lock it would not open, and despite his best efforts at lock picking, he could not open it.  To the right, however, there was the flight of stairs going down leading into another corridor.  So the two Hobbit heroes crept down the stairs and to the edge of the T-Section.   Johan, who was deeply curious for his own reasons, had also followed behind at a discrete distance. 

Lido carefully searched for any sign of traps at the bottom of the stairs.  He saw none.  The two Hobbits quickly poked their heads around the corners of the corridor glancing rapidly in both directions and then pulled back.  To the left Lido saw a pair of ornately carved wooden double doors, which were closed.   To the right Ishcandar saw a long corridor vanishing off into darkness.  The doors, thought Lido, looked vaguely familiar. 

“Those doors… they look familiar to me,” he whispered to Ishcandar, who suddenly recognized them as the very same doors that they’d seen in the secret study that Bernie had lead them into from the sewers the day before. 

A Most Unpleasant Surprise

“Ah, yes, of course,” replied Lido after Ishcandar explained.  They crept forward carefully, scanning for traps at each step, and within a few moments found that Yakov’s key opened the doors.  They were not surprised.  Into the room they ventured, while Johan stood guarding the doorway.  They found that the elegant little study had been put back in order, and the desk was returned to it’s original place, and the cabinets had their bottles of liquor returned to them.   It was as if they’d never disheveled the room to begin with.   Ishcandar went to the desk to inspect it and found that even the drawer that he’d smashed open with his crowbar had been expertly repaired so that it looked brand new.   He was a little surprised.  He thought he might take another peek inside, and so he fiddled with the lock and pulled the drawer open.  There was a sudden ‘ting’ sound and he felt a quick prick on his right forefinger.  A needle had pierced it.  He shouted and fell backwards.  He watched in horror as his finger began to turn black, and excruciating pain seared up to his elbow.  

Johan leapt to his side.  Within moments, however, Johan with his mystical healing art was able to stay the poison so that it ceased to spread further.  His finger remained black, but the pain was gone.  

“A most unpleasant surprise!” he said as he stood up.  “I could certainly use a drink, I should say!” as Johan guided the young Hobbit toward the doorway.

Lido, who was never one to deny his friend his due, went to the cabinet and opened the glass doors.  He looked over the various bottles, of which there were plenty, and decided that the closest one, a fine brandy, would do nicely, and pulled it off the shelf.  It was, however, attached to a string, which once pulled tipped over another bottle, which began to pour a clear and potent alcohol onto the large ornately woven red and gold carpet that Lido was standing on.  At the same moment a small flair ignited and dropped a lit match at the base of the cabinet.  There was an explosion of yellow fire, and Lido found himself enveloped in flames, along with the entire area of carpet he was standing on.   Not one to dawdle under such circumstances he leapt away from the cabinet, off the rug, and onto the stone floor of the corridor where Johan and Ishcandar were standing.  The doors to the room suddenly snapped shut just as he leapt through in the very nick of time.  There was a click as the double doors locked shut.   Had he not moved immediately Lido would have undoubtedly been trapped inside the flaming chamber.  The three adventurers managed to smother the flames, and though his cloths and hair were burned, with Johan’s help he did not sustain any significant injury.   It was a very good thing to have a mystic healer along, thought Lido to himself as he thanked Johan profusely.

They watched as the double doors began to smoke, and decided there was little point in remaining, and so they began to head back the way they came.  Ishcandar, however, was too curious about what was at the farther end of the dark corridor ahead, and so while the other two ascended the stairs he quickly and quietly trotted down the long corridor to find that it ended after eighty feet in two large red double doors with bronze studs riveted into its heavy wooden cross beams.  Above the door there was a red sign with gold lettering that read “Five Animals Hall”.   He listened at the door and from the other side he could hear the sounds of grunting and panting.  Perhaps it was men training, he thought.  He was unwilling to try the door to find out, and so he trotted back the way he came, and brought his report to the others who had reached Hermel and Jeremy at the entrance to the secret corridor.

The Last Resort

At this point they felt there was only one way to go, and that was forward toward the secret panel that Jeremy said was at the far end of the corridor they were standing in.  There would be another gas lantern, which would open the secret door into the room where the Hagglesmiths had been captured a day ago.  Hermel took a final glance at the Tower basement room’s open doorway, and it still had the same strange blue tinge as they went in the opposite direction.  They got to the far end of the corridor, and sure enough there was another gas lamp on the wall, and when they turned it there was a small click and a stone door cracked open.  Lido held it so that it would not open all the way and peered into a large square room ahead.

In that room they saw three men sitting at a table playing cards.  It was a basement cellar, stocked with kegs of beer, cases of wine on shelves, and a case of liquers along the far wall.  Huddled together on the floor were several children bound hand and foot with scarves tied over their mouths.  None of them were moving and all of them had their eyes closed. 

“The Hagglesmiths!” whispered Jeremy.



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