Friday, August 30, 2013

Worldbuilding: The Oaths of Dwarves

The Judgment of Moradin

To the dwarves, the swearing of an Oath is a sacred and monumental thing.  Oaths are used for the most solemn and powerful agreements: Alliances, Marriages, Debts of Honor, Vendettas and the like.

The priests of Moradin are the holders of Oaths.  They witness and record the Oath, casting each one into iron tablets that are affixed to the walls of the Oath-Hall of the Temple. Each end of the tablet designates one of the parties to the Oath, and the center holds the Oath itself.  Multiple parties in an Oath result in multi-lobed tablets.

Oaths are considered to be in force for as long as the iron tablet endures and if the tablet ever rusts or breaks it is considered a sign from Moradin.  The location of the rust or break is used as an Augury in those cases - determining the actual message from the God.

The Oath-Hall of the Temple also houses Honor's Stone, a rock where the Oaths are sworn.  On the stone is a steel anvil and 2-handed hammer, used for the testing and passing judgement on Oaths.

It is the sworn duty of all Priest of Moradin to uphold Oaths.  An accused Oathbreaker is to be brought to the Oath-Hall, where they can be judged by Moradin himself.  By custom, no-one is a KNOWN Oathbreaker until after Moradin has rendered judgement, but in many cases the evidence seems to speak for itself, and some are judged oathbreaker by public opinion.  This is a grievous thing for a dwarf, but not nearly so much as being judged Oathbreaker by Moradin himself.

Many Outcasts seek death in battle.
Formal Judgement involves striking the tablet that represents the Oath on the anvil of Honor's Stone.  The results of the blow show the Judgement of Moradin in the matter.  An unharmed tablet means that Moradin considers the Oath to still be valid, while a partially or wholly destroyed tablet indicates guilt by one or both parties.  A cleanly broken one indicates that Moradin considers the oath to have been fulfilled, with no fault on any particular side.

A dwarf that is Judged as an Oathbreaker has two choices.  He or she can be Outcast, receiving a facial tattoo that spells death if the Outcast is seen within dwarven lands.  Many dwarves consider an Outcast to be fair game in any land.  Otherwise, the Oathbreaker may offer formal Redress to the other parties of the Oath.  Redress is some form of compensation or apology, and it’s nature is up to the Oathbreaker.  

Dwarven Oathkeeper
The higher the Redress, the more honor is maintained by the Oathbreaker.  It is up to the other party or parties to decide if they accept Redress.  If they do, the Oath is considered fulfilled.  If they refuse it, the Oathbreaker is Outcast.  It is considered dishonorable to refuse an appropriate Redress.  The life of the Oathbreaker is almost always accepted if offered as Redress, and maintains the honor of the Oathbreaker’s Clan and Hold.

Some priests of Moradin are Oath-Keepers - the closest thing to inquisitors that the dwarves have. Oath-Keepers investigate allegations of Oath-breaking, retrieve the accused parties and interpret and administer the Judgement of Moradin.  This is usually a separate process from the laws of a kingdom or hold, and takes precedence over local laws.  Oath-Keepers are able to request aid and support from any dwarves that worship Moradin.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

D&D Next: Dwarves Update. Over Twisted Pass

The mission to scout Shalecliff and rescue survivors was a success.  After a bath, official commendations and a move out of the barracks and into new housing, the party begins to cast around for things to do.  A wagon rolls up shortly thereafter with a chest and a letter, sealed with the crimson hammer of Clan Redhammer.  In the letter are the official thanks of the clan and patriarch for the return of the Redhammer and of Arkask, the nephew of Amberlin Redhammer, leader of the clan and General of the Goldenhills Guard.

Dwarf Plate.  It's heavy but it WORKS!
In the chest are the material thanks of clan Redhammer.  2 suits of full plate armor, one for Hilbo and one for
Korrum. The suits are clearly the work of master smiths, with red-enameled highlights and discreet Redhammer clan sigils, along with more visible Mountain and Bridge symbols of the Paths Guild.  Korrum’s armor also bears the Hammer and Thunderbolt of Moradin on one arm, and Hilbo’s has the rarely-seen crest of the Huggins family on his.  Princely gifts, and truly unique, for the Paths Guild and the Goldenhills Guard have long been rival factions within the kingdom.

Khidre receives a quiver of dwarven Piercer arrows.  The enchanted ammunition pierces metal and stone like cloth, and are often used to anchor permanently in rock.  Stalagtite receives a Stone Cloak, a leather cloak sewn with thin disks of polished stone, which makes hiding or moving underground or among rocky terrain much easier.

The group then elects to sell those items they retrieved from Shalecliff.  Through the Eigar clan they contact Harroth Vhayde – a slickly prosperous merchant with a plaited brown beard and cold, calculating eyes.  They sell some gear, upgrade some other equipment, and hear Harroth’s proposal that they lead an expedition south over the mountains to restore and rebuild the old shipyard and trading post on the shore of the Imron Deep.  The party consider the offer, but elect to look for other opportunities as well.

Next comes their official briefing from Duggan Kammerin, their commanding officer in the Paths Guild.  The party has been designated as the official Expeditionary Scouting Detachment.  Goldenhills Hall has pursued an isolationist path for the past 50 years or more, but the Paths Guild, Merchant Guild and many of the noble houses have finally prevailed upon the King to break the isolation.

The assignment of the Expeditionary Detachment is to explore the areas around Goldenhills Hall, find out the current state of the neighborhood and ideally, re-establish old trading and communication links.  The party is given a broad mandate to set their own priorities, with the understanding that the security and prosperity of the Kingdom comes first.

It isn’t much more than a few hours later, while drinking in a local tavern, that the party realizes that their mission, and ability to move around outside the kingdom, have become general knowledge.  They are approached by a prosperous-looking grey bearded dwarf named Soren Greyrock.  Soren is a trade factor for Greyrock Traders, which work extensively with livestock, muleskinning and transport within the kingdom.
Soren’s proposal is that the party explore to the east, across the Twisted Pass and re-establish contact with the Ahten Nomads, who used to trade livestock, hides, finished leather and furs to the dwarves.  The isolation of the Kingdom has broken those ties, and Soren wants them restored.  The party sees this as consistent with their overall mission, and accept the assignment.

Summit of Twisted Pass
A few days later they cross Twisted Pass, along with some horses, trade goods and Khidre’s three retainers,
Derag, the wizened guide everyone calls Roots, his niece, Nimion the messenger and Gardred, the talented cook. Several days of travel takes them across the height of the pass and down into the long, wandering valley that opens out towards the plains.  Numerous small streams flow down from the hills on either side, forming into an ever-growing river in the center of the grassy vale.

One afternoon the party encounters a burned-out village alongside the river.  Khidre and Roots determine that the attack happened within the last few days, and that the attackers came from the river and returned the same way, dragging bodies along with them.  A few survivors and horses seem to have fled east, and the camp is demolished but largely unlooted.  No bodies or survivors are to be found, so the group continues east, following the river.

That night, a pair of dark, silent shapes with ice-blue eyes rise from the river and fall upon the camped party.  Luckily, Hilbo is on watch and spots the creatures before they get too close.  A sharp fight ensues, with the blades, hammers and arrows of the dwarves against the claws and teeth of the river-creatures.  Their bite seems to cause a numbing paralysis, and although Hilbo falls victim to the affliction, Korrum, Khidre and Stalagtite are able to keep the monsters from dragging him off and defeat them.

Seen in the light, the creatures prove to be human-like, but horribly malformed, with blacked skin, terrible claws and distended, protruding jaws.  Leaving the dead creatures, the party continues, watching the river more warily and following the tracks of the survivors from the village, who are now only a half-day ahead.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Character Background: Hakoah Ironbeard

It is said that Garin Ironbeard and Bryth Splinterbeard were as close as brothers when they led their clans
south from Ozulfbekhr to found Clearwater Mill and Blackrock Hold many generations ago.  Certainly the alliance between the two clans was a solid as dwarven iron for all the days after, or so it seemed.

In the time when Ghordahl Ironbeard was chief of the Blackrock Hold, and Halmerin Splinterbeard was chief of Clearwater Mill, orc clans from the northern mountains attacked and besieged Clearwater Mill.  Appeals for aid came from the embattled Splinterbeards, but despite the pleas of his theigns and the rage of his folk, Ghordahl did not march to their aid.

Instead he sat on his throne with his head in his hands, and muttered of “wyrd” and “doom” and “forging anew”.  Every dwarf in Blackrock Hold wept when the news of Clearwater Mills’ fall came.  All save Ghordahl, who clutched the arms of his throne and stared at the floor.

The remains of the Splinterbeards fled south and east to Goldenhills Hall, bearing the tale of treachery and the breaking of ancient oaths.  From that time until now the Ironbeards were Oathbreakers to all the other clans, and none would trade with them or greet them with friendship, for a breaker of oaths is accursed by Moradin and shunned.

Blackrock Hold survived, though.  Bereft of dwarven allies, they began to trade more closely with their neighbor, Britha, and so survived for many years – isolated and grim.  It was in these days that Hakoah, grandson of Ghordahl was born and grew up.

Britha was a fertile highland valley, with several rivers pouring down to form a large lake at the center, where the capital city, Eldgrinsetr, the City of Bridges was built.  The men of Britha traded to the west with Leagrove and fought against the dangers from the Icewall Mountains and the gnoll-tribes of the Blistered Reach.

About 10 years ago, the end came for Britha.  For three days, the sun over the valley burned an ugly shade of red, and curtains of locusts and stinging insects rained from the sky.  They devoured crops, plants and flesh with equal voracity, and the farmers and villagers of Britha fled to Eldgrinsetr.

On the fourth day, Ke-Sectat Hatath, the Porphyrous Dragon came from the north.  The massive purple drake descended on Eldgrinsetr in a whirling swarm of giant flesh-eating flies and destroyed the city utterly.  Those who were fortunate enough to survive the flies and dragon’s rancid clouds of lung-shredding fumes were clawed from the rubble and flayed alive by the beast.  It took three days for Eldgrinsetr to die, and the death was ugly.  The dragon tore apart the bridges and floodgates of the city, flooding much of it and laying waste to the rest.

The locusts and flies that accompanied Ke-Sectat Hatath ate the green vale into a deserted wasteland of leafless trees and bare, dusty earth.  Some refugees escaped to Blackrock Hall with the tale, but many more were driven east, to die in the Blistered Reach from thirst and hunger, or at the hands of the gnoll tribes inhabiting that savage wasteland.  Britha was gone, 10,000 folk utter wiped from the earth, and Ke-Sectat Hatath flew off to the north-west, towards the Shadow Waste beyond the Blistered Reach.

Blackrock Hall fell at the same time, although it took longer for the demise to become apparent.  Isolated and without allies or trade, and with the orcs and giant-folk of the mountains emboldened by the death of Britha, the hold dwindled and withered.  6 months ago a great force of goblins struck up through the mines, overrunning the defenders in wave after shrieking wave.  Hakoah managed to lead a small group out, but his father and grandfather both died in the rear-guard.  One of his father's theigns brought Hakoah the Ironbeard Axe in the chaos, along with a simple message, "Redeem Us."

The few refugees fled south to the gnomish camps around the old Blingdenstone Gates, or west to Leagrove
and the Vale of Gardens.  Hakoah saw them safe, then came back east.  Skirting the southern fringes of Britha, he came down into the grassy hills at the edge of the wide Saltwind Prairie.  There, he and Seamus were ambushed by gnoll raiders and taken captive.  After several days of marching, the gnolls appear to be closing in on their destination.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Making Barbarians More Interesting

I was pretty critical of the Barbarian class in my high-level write-up.  Some of that is frustration, because it’s close to being really good.  All the pieces of something interesting are there – it’s just presented in a way doesn't do it justice.  Lots of potential.

This is how I’d do it:
Break the whole leveling set up into 2 discreet chunks:  Level 1-3 and everything else. I’ll talk about name-level thoughts in another post.

Next we identify what features are associated with those level ranges:

Levels 1-3:
+1 attack Bonus
+2 Rage damage bonus
Feral Instinct
Reckless Attack
1 Path/Path Feature

I’m OK with the concept that levels 1 through three are introductory levels, so I’m fine with keeping these 3 levels as-is.  You get to make quite a few interesting choices during character creation, 2nd level comes very quickly, and you get to make a major choice at 3rd level with your path.

However, I see no reason for the linear progression of the Path Features.  I’d allow players to pick a path feature from the list when they get a path feature.  The default progression (if you don’t want to make decisions) could still be as-written.

Path of the Berserker.  Fearless Rage and Mindless Rage should be automatic benefits to the path.  I would also give anyone that picked Path of the Berserker 1 additional use of rage right off the bat.  If they are berserkers, they should have more berserk in them.  I would also make Unlimited Rage a benefit of this only path at Lv 20.

Path of the Totem Warrior.  See – picking the totem spirit is EXACTLY the kind of interesting choice I like.  It is cool stuff, adds thematically to your character, all the benefits are neat and they AREN’T all combat benefits.  I like the idea of making Totem Spirit the default first choice here.  The rest, I'd just let the player pick which path feature they want when they get one.

For the rest of the levels, I would lay things out like so:
Feat/Ability Upgrade
2 Class Features
Path Feature, Class Feature
Class Feature
Class Feature
Feat/Ability Upgrade
Path Feature, Class Feature
Class Feature
2 Class Features
Path Feature, Class Feature
Class Feature
2 Class Features
Path Feature, Class Feature
Class Feature
Lv 20 Path Benefit

If you don’t want to make choices, take the Class and Path Features in order – giving you basically the current progression.

The Class Feature List would look like this.  You could take each option once.
Brutal Critical
Fast Movement
+1 Attack Bonus
1 Extra Rage
Feral Reflexes
Two Attacks
+1 Attack Bonus, +1 Rage Damage
Relentless Rage
Furious Resilience
1 Extra Rage
+1 Attack Bonus
1 Extra Rage
Simmering Rage
Incite Rage
1 Extra Rage, +1 Rage Damage
Primal Might
Death-Defying Rage

Realistically, I’d add about 5 more features so that nobody could ever get all of them.  Scarcity is interesting.  Keep the number of rages and +1 attack bonus' limited, though.  I'm OK with players getting those lower on the level scale if it means they are sacrificing other benefits to get them, but adding more of them means that you are potentially messing with the "bounded accuracy" business.

Another benefit to this structure is that it makes it really easy to expand on the class.  Paths are self-contained, so they are simple to build and add, and adding class features is also relatively easy, although you want to go carefully there – too many and we’re right back in 3e country.

But notice – no feat chains.  No stat or level pre-reqs.  So if I want an accurate rager, I can spend my early features on extra rages and hit bonuses.   I haven’t really added anything to the class structure, just formalized what it is already doing and added choices, albeit bounded ones, at each level.

You could also turn this into a d20 chart pretty easily, if you wanted to do random-feature advancement.  I know some people like that.

Anywhoo, that's how I'd do this.  Same pieces, organized differently, with a default progression for those who want a simpler system.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Creating a High Level D&D Next Character: Barbarian (Conan)

Well, the last Creating a DnD Character post attracted a lot of interest.  The new playtest package came out a bit ago, so I thought I'd give this another go and see what's changed.  I also want to try making a high-level character, just to do a simulation of what leveling looks like.

I'm going to make CONAN, a level 18 Barbarian.  Then I'm going to make him again as a level 18 fighter.

Actual Quote from my 4-year old daughter, Iris.  "Who's a Coban?"

Race:  Human, obviously, since this is Conan.  But it's also a really good choice, which is weird since human has been the red-headed stepchild of the race choices for as long as I can remember.  +1 on all stats is pretty impressive, and makes

So, point buy for stats - 15 Str, 15 Dex, 15 Con, 9 everything else. Conan is a physical beast.  Stats go up to 16,16,16,10,10,10 with the racial bonus.  He speaks Common and Orcish, cause Conan would know how to speak Orc.  Or Pictish, anyways.

Background is Guide - we'll go with post-Venarium Conan, just down from the hills.  He gets the Wanderer trait, proficiency in Navigator's tools (whatever the fuck those are.  The stars?  Moss on trees?) and Cultural Lore: Northern Peoples and Natural Lore.  The only way to make these fucking lores work is to make them REALLY general.  Otherwise ones like Arcane and Natural are just worth so much more than the others that the others are worthless.  Lores suck a dick.

Starting HP is15 (12+3) and equipment is a longsword (thematic, technically it's a broadsword), a shield and studded leather, for an AC of 15.  He gets 2 rages, which make him tougher and hit harder.  Now to start leveling up this bad boy.

Level 2, we get 9 more HP (I'm just giving him the 6 average every level), bringing the total to 24, and Feral Instinct, which gives him advantage on initiative rolls (awesome) and Reckless Attack, which gives him advantage on attacks when not raging, at the cost of advantage on attacks against him.  Not bad, and thematic for a Barbarian.

Level 3 and things get interesting.  Conan is not really a berserker like Logan Nine-Fingers or Minsc, but
he's no totem warrior either.  I'll try Berserker on this build and see how it goes.  I suspect the Fighter version might end up being more accurate.  This is actually the point where I would multi-class him to fighter anyhow.
That would be barbarian rage, alright.
So, path of the Berserker gives him Fearless Rage, so he cannot be frightened while raging.  He also gets 9 more HP, bringing the total to 33, and gets another use of Rage.

Level 4 brings us to another interesting choice - feat or stat bump?  This is really an interesting choice.  Alert, Charger, Stealthy and Tough are all appropriate, but most chronologies have Conan as a thief in Arenjun in Zamora at about this point in his career, so we'll take the Stealthy feat.  That gives him low-light vision, the ability to hide if lightly obscured and a d4 expertise dice to use on Dex saves when hiding.  Not bad, but maybe not worth 2 stat points.  HP's go up to 42.

Level 5 raises his attack bonus to +2, totalling +5 to hit now, Brutal Critical, which allows him to roll an additional dice when he hits with a critical (so a critical with his longsword would be 3d8+3, or +5 if he is raging).  He also gets Fast Movement, raising his speed by 10, to 40, since he is sticking with the light armor.  HP go up to 51.

Level 6 sees HP go to 60, another use of rage, so 4 now, and Mindless Rage, which makes him immune to charm while raging.  Sorta meh power, but whatever.

Level 7, HP go to 69 (dude) and he gets Feral Reflexes.  Now, this one is just written badly.  It says that "if you are surprised while you are conscious, you can take a turn during the surprise round if you enter your rage at the start of the round." I'm not sure what the fuck that is supposed to mean.  If you are surprised, you CAN'T enter your rage at the start of the round.  But I'm just going to assume they mean that if he gets surprised, he can enter a rage and act normally during the surprise round.

Level 8 and we get some cool stuff. HP are up to 78 and he now has 2 attacks per round.

Level 9 and we're back to feat vs ability score.  I'd say here we want to increase Str by 2, to 18.  Rage damage also goes up to +3, so Conan has +6 to hit and +7 damage while raging, and gets 2 attacks per round.  He also now has 87 HP.

Level 10 sees an increase in our base attack bonus, so +7 to hit, 96 HP and another class feature, Unchecked Fury, which allows him to make 1 additional melee attack if he misses during his turn.  Very nice power.

No King Conan in THIS version of D&D
This is the point where I think I would cap HP gain, or limit it just to Con bonus.  Cranking HP up past 100, I think gets us diminishing returns pretty fast.  We're getting to Name Levels now, and even if Next doesn't have demesne stuff, I'll be house-ruling it in.

Level 11 gets him Relentless Rage, which lets him make a DC 10 Con saving throw to ignore a blow that would drop him below 0 HP, instead staying at 1, so long as he is raging.  Handy power that.  Better buff up Con when we have a chance.  HP go up to 107.

Level 12 brings his HP to 116, and gains Furious Resilience, which allows all saves made while raging to be done with advantage.  That sorta makes Relentless Rage pretty nice.  The only practical way to kill him now is massive damage killing him outright.  The math on this is basically that Advantage is about the same as a +3 bonus on a roll.  Combined with +3 (soon to be +4) on Con rolls, that means he saves 4 times out of 5 on his Relentless Rage checks.  Oh, and he also gets another use of rage, bringing the total to 5.

Level 13 is another feat vs ability point.  I'd say we'll go with the +2 Con bonus.  That means he has 126 HP.

Level 14 means HP go to 136 and he gets the path feature Brutal Rage, where he can turn a normal hit into a critical, but this stops his rage and grants attacks advantage for the next round.  This would be situationally handy, but not  super-great for a 14th level ability.

Level 15 and HP go to 146 and we get Simmering Rage, so now he can go up to 2 consecutive turns without making an attack before his rage ends.  Handy for prolonging the FUN!

Level 16 means the attack bonus goes up to 4, as does the rage damage.  Conan now has 156 HP and gets 2 attacks/round at +8 to hit and damage when raging.  He also gets Incite Rage, which is a LOS slight buff on a single target.  Not very impressive at 16th level.  This shit needs to be options at lower levels.  This fucking design by 1e is crap.

Terrifying Rage in action!
Level 17 gets him another rage, so 6 now, and a path feature, Terrifying Rage, which makes any creature that takes damage from him make a Will save or be frightened.  Which is pretty cool and interesting.  Oh, and he has 166 HP!

Level 18, which is as high as we're gonna go, is the final feat vs stat choice.  Conan is wary like a cat, so I'll take the Alert feat, which gives him +5 on initiative (and advantage...  and +3 for dex), immunity to surprise and advantage on wisdom checks when using Listen or Spot.  Not bad.  He also now has 176 HP.

I could take him all the way to 20, but really, I'm kinda bored.  Other than character creation, I got to make 5 decisions.  One path decision at level 3, and four feat vs stat increase choices.

THIS IS NOT THE WAY TO DESIGN A CLASS.  Interesting decisions are the staple of tabletop games of all varieties, and there are NO interesting decisions here - just force-feeding.  It's a railroad adventure dressed up as a class.  And there is NO REASON it has to be this way.  Most of the high-level class and path features are just as powerful as the low-level ones.  You want to make this interesting - give me a choice of any of those features at each level where I would normally get one. Let me choose my path feature, and choose my class feature, or swap them out for a flat bonus to something.  Then we're talking.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

D&D Next Playtest: Dwarves Update

Let’s get things caught up on the DnD Next Dwarves campaign.

The party was initially formed by the Goldenhills Hall Paths Guild – the scouting and special operations branch of the Goldenhills Hall military.  Their first assignment was to investigate the mining outpost of Shalecliff, some days travel to the north.  Shalecliff had stopped replying, and 2 military expeditions had not returned.  A lighter touch was called for, so the special squad was sent out.

The party entered Shalecliff quietly, accessing the mining tunnels via a tailings dump outlet and working their way back to the main hall.  They didn’t take the main access lift up, instead using their Underdark druid - Stalagtite, and their experienced underdark guide - Korrum, to navigate the mining tunnels.

In the tunnels, they encountered an injured dwarf. His eyes have been gouged out, and chunks bitten from both palms.  His ravings are hard to decipher, but he rants about “black diamonds – waking up.  Not diamonds.  Eyes!  The screams.  The eating…”

Making sure the injured dwarf is comfortable, the party continues into Shalecliff, and finds a scene of, well... horror.  Most dwarves that remain have been transformed into shambling, eyeless abominations, with crystalline claws and jagged black crystal teeth.  Working their way through the old residential areas of the hold, they fought several packs of the creatures, who prove to be little impediment to the skilled warriors.

Near the entrance to the temple of Moradin, they encounter something more dangerous.  A huge beast – a swollen monstrosity shaped like a huge dwarf, but with dozens of distorted faces emerging from it’s body and a huge black gemstone embedded in its chest.  Once again they defeat the thing, along with a pack of the lesser abominations.  As it dies, the gemstone shatters and a fistfull of slick black diamonds pour out…

Wisely ignoring the ominous stones, the party retreats to the temple of Moradin, hoping to find if the priest had survived.  Instead of refuge, they find that the temple has been profaned. The anvil altar is utterly gone, and a great hole has been dug in the floor, leading down into impenetrable darkness.

As the party enters, a pair of creatures emerge from the pit.  Horrid amalgamations of dozens of dwarves, they run along the ground on dozens of hands and legs, biting with extended snouts of jagged crystal.  It is a desperate fight, and the cleric, ranger and druid are all badly injured when a final mighty blow by Hilbo’s maul smashes the second creature into the ground.
After a rest, barricaded in the priest’s chambers and considerable magical healing from the druid and cleric, the party ventures forth again.
This time they head along the main corridor towards the front entrance, with the intention of checking the noble's chambers and the hall of Duke Redhammer for survivors.  They defeat a few other shambling dwarves, and reach the gates of the Duke’s Hall, which are shut and locked, apparently from within.

From his time as a sergeant of the guard at Shalecliff, Hilbo knows the “All-Clear” passcodes which can be hammered on a metal plate set in the door, so he proceeds to knock the code.  After some minutes, the gates creak open, revealing the red-armored form of the Duke himself. Arkask, wielding the eponymous enchanted Redhammer of his house.

Shrieking and clearly deranged, the Duke attacks immediately and Hilbo charges to meet him.  Two armored dwarves fighting each other with mauls is always going to be a brief fight, and a whirling smash from Hilbo ends the fight almost instantly – sending Arkast sliding across the floor, stunned and breathless.   A quick pile-on and ropes later, and the Duke is restrained.

Deciding that they have the greatest prize possible from the complex, and that they have enough information to facilitate reclaiming Shalecliff, the party elects to retreat with their prize.  On the way out, they find and rescue a young dwarven woman who had locked herself in a storage room and 2 young children who were hiding in the midden/mushroom farm.

Burdened by a handful of survivors, the group retraces their steps, pick up Durin, the blinded dwarf and begin to retreat through the mines to the exit.  Unfortunately, they are pursued for hours by packs of Eyeless Hunters, horribly malformed dwarves that use their crystal talons to crawl on walls and ceilings.  After hours of nightmarish running battles and exhausted flight, the party reached the mine exit without losing a single survivor.

Two days back to civilization, and a Paths Guild patrol brings everyone in safely.  The party rests up while a full military expedition is sent to reclaim the shattered hold.  Success on their first mission!

Friday, August 23, 2013

D&D Next Playtest: Ahten Nomads

The characters are currently exploring the plains to the east of Goldenhills Hall, crossing the Twisted Pass and seeking to re-establish contact with the Ahten Nomads, who used to trade livestock for metal goods.

The Ahten are horse-riders and herdsmen.  They fight as horse archers and lancers, wearing mostly leather/bone armor.

The Ahten are divided into  several clans.  In the winter, each clan moves into small encampments scattered around one of the 6 major valleys on the western side of the Saltwind Prairie.  In the summer they move out onto the high plains with their herds, and skirmish with the gnolls, who live to the north, and the lizard-men, who have villages in the tidal flats and brackish estuaries along the ocean.  They also tangle with raiders and slavers from Hellonde, the City of Chains to the far east (about 200 miles).

The Ahten are loosely allied with the City-State of Arar, called the Gate of the North, which is to the north-east of the Saltwind Prairie and which is perpetually at war with Hellonde.  They used to trade with the Old Kingdom, and with Goldenhills Hall, and with Britha to the north, but Britha was destroyed by some catastrophe they don't like to talk about, and they had to fight hordes starving refugees - the ones that the gnolls didn't get.  They are now somewhat isolated, and their equipment and fortunes have suffered as a result.

 The clans are all run by a Chief, who can be male or female. Usually the Chief is chosen by acclamation, and must be a proven war-leader or shaman.  Family ties mean quite a bit in this, though, so the child of a Chief has a pretty good chance of replacing them, provided they live up to their parent somewhat.

There are six Ahten clans and each clan has a specific valley where they spend the winter.

Ahten Clans:
Eagle (eagle-plumed headdresses, white and red colors.  Eagle wings standard)
Crow (crow-claw jewelry, black and gold colors, crow and raven feather banner)
Weasel (sharpened teeth, brown and red colors, Weasel-pelt standard)
Foolish Dog (hordes of cattle dogs, yellow and tan colors, dog-skull standard)
Stallion (Horse-tail decorations, painted horses,
Grey Wolf (Wolf pelt clothing and wolf tooth decoration)

The Crow Clan:
The Crow Clan are resident in the valley where the Twisted Pass opens out, and are currently under attack by gnoll raiders, ghuls and other undead creatures - seeming to originate from a ruined keep in the hills to the north.

The Crow are scattered and leaderless, with many winter camps destroyed and people missing.  Many Crows have joined with other clans, or have led their camps out onto the plains, where it is somewhat safer.  Javach Rel, the shaman of the Crow Clan is in the east with her riders, raiding against Hellonde slavers.

Atli Blackhair
NPC: Atli Blackhair 
Human Female Ranger 2
Strong-faced young woman in stained but fine leathers.  She is intense, focused and somewhat merciless.  She has 4-year old son, Oyudran.

Atli is the only surviving wife of Droud, previous chief of the Crow clan, who was killed in a Ghul attack.  Oyudran is Droud’s son, and has a chance to claim the chief's mantle if he survives to majority and proves himself as a shaman or warrior.

If Atli can muster enough support, she can rule as clan-chief until Oyudran is adult.  She is a known tracker and huntress, and being Droud's wife adds to her influence.  This is her primary focus.  Secondarily, she wants what is best for her clan.