Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Legends of Partholon: The Lawgiver, Valkas

A bronze statue of Valkas
Names & Titles: Valkas, the Lawgiver, the Skyfather

Symbols & Depiction: Symbols include the eagle Kuros, often seen clutching bolts of lightning in its talons; the Solkar, a pentagon in a circle; and the Trishulion, Valkas' trident-like staff of power. He is depicted as an aged warrior, stern and unyielding, but subject to occasional whims.

Prestige: The Empire of Tyrhennea holds Valkas to be chief of the among the gods. It was he who subdued the titans, the dragons, and the abominations of the Elder World, and he who decreed or divined the natural laws of the cosmos. His bride, Yuna embodies the harmony of family, society, and the World. Alcidine is either his earthly son or his very avater. Taranis and Valkarrea, primarily patrons of craft and wisdom, also go forth in warrior aspects to enforce the Lawgiver's will. Even his brother Grivenar serves as adviser and seer to the Skyfather's court.

Among the Vagyar, his prestige is much diminished. Although recognized as the Skyfather and conqueror of monsters, his veneration is eclipsed by that of his children and his brother.

The Solkar
Veneration: Valkas is often invoked to witness binding oaths, and swearing such an oath before witnesses while sketching a solkar or trishulion is by Tyrhennean law the equal of a signature or seal. Even the Vagyar recognize that Valkas will hold a man to his word, and that ill-fortune will follow those who defy him. The typical Vagyar's pragmatic solution is to avoid making promises, or else to break them with such regularity that Valkas can't possibly take such oaths seriously.

In Tyrhennea, the Law for which Valkas stands is built upon a foundation of loyalty to one's society, community, and family. Personal integrity and self-sacrifice and seen as great virtues, and misfortune is frequently attributed to transgressions of cosmic law. Sacrifices and penance may placate the Lawgiver, but Yuna is often beseeched to intercede for mercy. In the Delian cities, it is widely recognized that Valkas has a soft spot for those who can impress him with their daring and panache. "If you cannot be meek, be astonishing," as one Delian proverb puts it, "and the gods may smile on you yet."

Legends: There are two main cycles of legends about Valkas. The first is focused on his exploits at the dawn of time, slaying or subduing the monsters of the Elder World and ordering the cosmos according to Law. The second normally centers around a mortal who transgresses against the cosmic Law, and either suffers some terrible fate or serves as the god's champion on one or another epic quest. Valkas acts as little more than a judge or patron in these latter tales.

Artifact - Thunderheads: Valkas is occasionally depicted shooting thunderbolts from his bow, either to warn or to slay those who have offended his judgement. It is said that the arrows that channel this sky-fire are burnt to cinders, but that the arrowheads may sometimes survive. Treasure-hunters have been known to scour the sites of lightning strikes in hopes of finding such relics.

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Village of Sham

Sham could fit into this space.
Sham is a small village on the north side of the Shimrod Forest, east of the Imperial territories of Partholon. With a population of about 200, the village takes up less than seven acres. Most houses are clustered inside the wooden stockade that protects against Kruthar raiders and marauding wolves.

Sham supports itself mainly by fishing and woodcutting, with some farming and other trades rounding out the village life. A volunteer militia protects the village. At any time a handful of lookouts patrol the stockade and when the warning bell rings, dozens of villagers race to arm themselves and defend their home. Most of the militia are "normal men," 0-level NPCs, but a few have seen enough action, either here or in service to the Baron, to count as 1st level fighters.

Desmond is lost in thought.
The village falls under the rule of Baron Blackhart, whose castle lies two days' journey south, on the coast. He requires little of the village save their taxes, and they ask little of him in return. The village elder, Desmond, is the nominal local authority, but little governance is actually required on a regular basis. Town meetings are usually sufficient to deal with any special concerns that may arise. This is probably fortunate, as Desmond is very knowledgeable about a variety of topics, but is quite senile and possibly a bit mad. His granddaughter, Rosalyn, takes care of him and supports the household primarily by accepting bribes from those who would consult with the absent-minded sage. She typically greets visitors by informing them that "The Elder is quite busy," and will follow it up with, "His time is very valuable," if they don't seem to get the hint.

Weyland the Smith is something of a craftsman-polymath, being the village blacksmith, bladesmith, whitesmith and brightsmith. Upkeep of the militia's armory is his chief responsibility, while his several apprentices usually see to most of the standard tasks of the forge. This is the man to see for ordering new weapons and armor, as well as to have jewelry appraised. He recently fell ill, and his daughter Nylian has taken a break from her treasure-hunting to take over his responsibilities.

Mr Barliman appreciates your custom
The Blue Boar Tavern is the social center of the village - the place where locals relax after a hard day's work, socializing, recreating, and gossiping. Harlan "the Boar" Barliman offers a selection of food and drink as well as a roof over the heads of rare travelers. Private rooms, for lodging or for parties, are available for a silver coin a night.

Adventure opportunities abound, for those willing to look around a bit. Just a few miles west of town are mysterious ruins, where the Company of the Burning Fist have been delving for months. The dungeon they've been exploring has been identified as an underground temple of Zhothaqquah, and evidence suggests the ruins were once an Agha-yin city.

A half-day's journey to the south is "Snake Den," the cave where a pair of giant adders had nested, before the company slew them and destroyed their eggs. In the nest was a caern of stones spattered with black wax, before an immeasurably deep pit that intimidated even the normally-fearless Nylian. Plans to explore this pit have been delayed by logistics and by the more tempting opportunities in the ruins.

And somewhere in the northern hills are the Kruthar barbarians, savages that are more animal than man. They've been raiding more frequently of late, and much of the militia has been stricken with plague.

Room & Board

If you've been wanting a house like this, then this is the house for you!
Up to this point, I've been charging my players a flat rate of 1 silver coin per day for room & board. Any treasure they were not carrying on their persons could be stored in the village treasury, with a 10% surcharge  (also noteworthy, I use a silver standard for this campaign).

The food & services chart from Keep on the Borderlands suggest that 1 sp would cover a private room at an inn, but since I assume my PCs are eating, (and since this podunk village doesn't have a proper traveler's inn), I assume that they're just renting a little space in the common room of the tavern. That would be 1 cp; with the remaining 9, they could afford stew, beer, bread, cheese, and fruit for dinner, with leftovers for breakfast and dungeon rations for lunch. And this is the cheap beer, pretty much just water with enough alcohol content to make it safe to drink - so pretty much your typical American beer, I guess.

A number of the PCs actually have family in town and maybe had their lodging sorted out, and they may have been eating better, but were also contributing to the family expenses, so I rule that it evens out.

Now, Ash, Bill, and Svaarden saved up enough money to buy houses, which is a good investment. A house is 500 sp, fully furnished, and allows PCs to store their treasure hoards with no additional fees. Having a pantry and an address also makes shopping a bit cheaper: 20 sp a month should do. Wow! You're saving 8 sp a month, plus 10% of the grocery money - the house will pay for itself in just four years! What a deal!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Blue Pearl Ring

This artifact is a silver ring with claws clutching a blue pearl. Cantrik glyphs inscribed around the inside of the band give an incantation for the protection spell. The ringbearer enjoys a +1 to AC and saves, and a magic-user can use the ring as a talisman to cast protection. The ring's normal effect, the talisman spell, and the magic-user's own spell can all stack together, if desired.

The ring was round in the tomb of the Agha-yin prince Mayna-yood-sashai, in the catacombs beneath the temple of Zhothaqquah.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Ring of Shadows

The Ring of Shadows is a blood-red gem set in silver, with a Vhoorlish glyph for "shadow" inscribed. Inside the band is another inscription, in the script of Agha-yin, which translates to an imperative: "Do not see me," or possibly just, "Ignore me!" Speaking this message aloud activates the talisman, which casts a spell of invisibility on the ringbearer. 

The ring was found in the tomb of the Agha-yin prince Mayna-yood-sashai, in the catacombs beneath the temple of Zhothaqquah.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Legends of Partholon: the Rune-lord, Grivenar

Grivenar encountered on a foggy night
Names & Titles: Grivenar, the Grey God, the Twilight Eye, the Rune-lord, the Father of Magic

Prestige: A major god, but one whose attention is best avoided.

Veneration: The Vagyar deem him the most powerful of all the gods, and therefor their leader. In Tyrhennea, he is depicted as brother to Valkas, and his adviser on eldritch matters. His ravens bring news and omens that even Valkas' sharp-eyed eagle might overlook.

The Vagyar generally deem all magic-users his priests, and fear to cross his will. Nonetheless, Vagyar warriors distrust magicians, for Grivenar acts on his own purpose and not for the good of mankind. Even a hero who wins the Grey God's favor is still a pawn that may be sacrificed.

In the Empire he is little-worshipped and rarely beseeched, save by those who seek protection from or mastery over magical forces. He is associated with guardianship of dead souls, and ravens and crows are said to be his spies and servants, as well as carrying newly-dead spirits to the underworld.

Overall, he serves only his own schemes, and it is deemed wisest to avoid his attention.

Legends: It was Grivenar who gave to mankind the secret of the Cantrik glyphs, the runes and hierograms that codify magic into spells. It is said that he journeyed through the Nine Beyonds and suffered great agonies to discover the secrets of spellcraft. Some legends say that even the fundamental concept of the written word was taught to humanity by Grivenar.

Many Vagyar legends tell of heroes who were given magical trinkets or enchanted blades by Grivenar, or by a nameless traveler as he is often depicted, or even by a great, one-eyed raven. In virtually all of these tales, the hero met his doom when his artifact was inevitably lost to folly, or fate, or to the god's whimsy. One legend tells that Grivenar collects the souls of great heroes to form an army somewhere in the realms of the dead, and that he will guide aspiring heroes along the path to greatness, only to lead them to their dooms when they have proved themselves worthy of his collection.

Artifact: The Runestaff. This gnarled, wooden staff is inscribed with runes in winding patterns along its length. Some legends claim it is the heart of the world-tree, and is therefore the very incarnation of the axis mundi, the center of the world. Its runes are said to encode many spells, and it is also called "the Key to the Outer Gate," referring apparently to the ability to travel beyond the world's edge. The Runestaff has come into mortal possession several times over the ages, sometimes for years, sometimes for scant days. In every case, the staff eventually disappeared.

Seeker: a Rune-sword

This rune-sword was created to seek out and destroy the supernatural forces that may threaten the world. It possesses a kind of will, and may overwhelm a weak spirit. The self-discipline typical of Lawful alignment is the best bulwark against Seeker's arcana; wielders of other alignments had best beware, as the effort of mastering this rune-sword will be exhausting and may well prove deadly!

Seeker grants a +1 bonus to Attack Power and Damage. Against spell-casting enemies, the bonus increases to +2. The sword can be commanded to sense arcana three times a day.

Seeker has Int 7 and Psyche 7, with a Will of 14. Its optimal alignment is Lawful.

Artifacts with Will

Edit: I'm refining this material a little. When I do, I'll probably delete this entry and post a new one entirely. 

For the most part, a magical artifact is a tool or object with supernatural powers, and is detectable as arcana. Very rarely, an artifact may possess a will of its own. Most are subtle, with psyches that can't really be called minds, and intelligences that aren't quite human; any direction or communication will seem like intuition. A few have such clear personalities that they can carry on extended conversations with their bearers. All artifacts with will use the same system.

Such an artifact is rated with an Intelligence score, a Psyche score, and a Will score. Will is Int + Psych, modified by the artifact's magical powers. A bearer's Will score is Cha + Wis, modified by Str. The difference between these Wills is called the Control Factor, or CF. A positive CF indicates that the bearer is normally in control, but this control may be tested from time to time - particularly when the bearer has been injured or weakened. A negative CF means the bearer is normally allowed free reign, but the artifact can and will seize control whenever it desires.

 Control is tested when the bearer first picks up or attempts to use the artifact. It will be tested again when the artifact has an opportunity to pass to another, more desirable bearer, or when the bearer attempts to discard or replace the artifact. If the artifact has a special purpose or motive, it will test control whenever it has chance to pursue its ends. It will also test control when the bearer first falls below maximum HP, and again when the bearer falls below 50% maximum.

When a test of wills is indicated, dice will be rolled: 1d6 if the bearer is at less than maximum hp, or 2d6 if the bearer is at less than half maximum. If the bearer is the wrong alignment, roll an additional 1d6+1. Thus, if the bearer is of the proper alignment and unharmed, then as long as the CF is positive, the artifact is unable to exert any control. If the CF is negative, the bearer will automatically fail any test of wills.

Any artifact with will has an optimal alignment. This alignment may or may not reflect the artifact's own purpose; it is simply the alignment best suited to maintaining control over the artifact. Sometimes there is a true arcane compatibility at issue, but in other cases it's simply the fact that a mind that works a certain way can best curtail a given artifact's attempts at dominance. Wrestling with the artifact's will can be exhausting; a would-be bearer of the wrong alignment will lose 1d6 or 2d6 HP to exhaustion, depending on how much his alignment differs from the optimum. (This loss of HP will affect the test of wills, making it very difficult to successfully master a hostile artifact.)

Legends of Partholon: Rune-swords

There is a legend that tells of a time long ago, when humanity was still young. The elder race of Agha-yin had long fallen to decadence, worshiping obscenities and things from Outside. The sorcerer-kings of Arkhemea embraced wilder and darker magicks in their endless struggle for primacy. These litanies and incantations echoed across the chasms beyond space and time, and terrible things turned their attention to this small realm of light and life. 

Out of the north came a sage cloaked in grey, and with him he brought three great secrets. The first was the secret lore of wizardry, a more constructive magic that attuned its user to the harmonies of the cosmos. The second was the secret artifice of the rune-swords, that would give any stalwart soul the means to battle the spawn of chaos. The third secret has been lost to time. 

There are other legends, of course. There are texts that were written in scripts more ancient than any human tongue, and fragments still survive, copied and annotated in tomes of forbidden lore. Among those scholars and sorcerers who have read these passages, there are those who have claimed that rune-swords were known to these pre-humans, and that even the princes of Agha-yin had rune-swords of their own.  

Legends of Partholon: The Grey Sage, Zagyg

A statue of the Grey Sage
Names & titles: Zagyg, the Grey Sage, the Mad Mage, the Labyrinth Lord, the Catacomb Keeper

Prestige: Demigod or legendary hero

Veneration: He is a patron of magic, moreso of temperance in spellcraft, and wizards claim him as the founder of their tradition. He is commonly invoked for protection from malign spells, and sorcerers call upon him to keep their incantations from drawing otherworldly attention.

He is widely regarded as a champion of the gods of Law, and credited with sealing of the Underworld's many entrances with sprawling labyrinths, filled with tricks and traps to keep the spawn of Chaos locked in their dark world, and to deter those who might be tempted to ally with them.

Perhaps as an extension of this aspect, Zagyg is also deemed a protector of tombs and crypts. Paradoxically, treasure-hunters and tomb-robbers often sacrifice in his name, in hopes of currying guidance and luck, or at least mercy.

However, Zagyg is also called by some "the Mad Mage," and credited with 

Legend: Perhaps because he is such a minor figure, no single, unified version of his legend has yet risen to prominence. The accounts that do exist are so varied as to be contradictory. Some tell that he is the son of, or even the earthly incarnation of, the grey god Grivenar. Others claim that he was an Arkhemean sorcerer-king who repented and abandoned the perpetual struggle for power to pursue a higher calling: crusading against the creatures of Chaos and the Underworld. One version says simply that he came out of the north bearing spells and artifacts to raise a crusade against the vile decadence of Agha-yin and the sorcery of Arkhemea.

Artifacts:  Any rune-sword might be considered an artifact of Zagyg, but he, like any magic-user, was unable to wield them himself. When confronted with physical force, Zagyg often relied on his Serpent Staff.  He would hurl the staff at his foes, or simply throw it down at his own feet, and it would become a great serpent, crushing his enemies in its coils or even devouring them whole. When none still dared oppose him, the serpent would return to his hand and resume its former shape.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Alicorn Spear - the Artifact

The Alicorn Spear is an artifact weapon best used in the hands of a cleric, but of some use to a magic-user of the order of Wizardry.

The spear has a +1 bonus to attack and damage rolls. This bonus improves to +2 against the undead. Like any spear, it can be used to fight from the second rank. However, the spear's greatest quality is as an implement of healing.

A cleric or wizard holding the spear can heal wounds with a touch, as the cure spell. Any individual can benefit from this power only once per day, and the power is limited. The healing touch can be used only thirty times before it is exhausted. Fortunately, a cleric or wizard can restore this power via sacred rites, but this requires six days and 3,000 silver worth of ritual components.

The spear's aura interferes with sorcery and most other forms of magic, but wizards and clerics have no difficulty with their spellcraft. However, a wizard's arcane aura will interfere with the spear's attack and damage bonus.

The Alicorn Spear - Crafting

 The delving party found an alicorn, a unicorn horn, amongst the junk and refuse of a goblin storage room. Bill's player is interested in making a magic item out of it. 

After some consideration, I believe Bill may be capable of creating the Alicorn Spear but it is an expensive, involving, and uncertain project. Bill would need to spend 6,000 silver on equipment and rare materials for the rituals and construction, and would have a 45% chance of success. He can improve the odds by acquiring rarer and better quality components: 12,000 silver would give a 70% chance, or 18,000 silver for an 85% chance.

It will also require time. Bill can go into seclusion for about a month and a half, doing nothing else, and spend all the costs at once. Or, he could work on this project in his spare time, paying the costs gradually as funds become available. However, this start-and-stop procedure is much less efficient, requiring about 60 days total devoted to the work.

Additionally, since the horn was in the possession of goblins, there's a good chance it had been taken by force, and may have been tainted by a unicorn's murder, or corrupted by its time in the underworld. Bill would be well advised to seek out a unicorn to purify the horn. If he relies on his own rituals to purify it, there is a small chance (call it 15%) that the result could be a cursed artifact, warped by the powers of chaos.

Monday, January 16, 2012


The campaign is set in the borderlands of Partholon - to the west is the Imperial Territory, to the east lie the Small Kingdoms. On the northern edge of the Shimrod Forest is the tiny village of Sham - a peaceful hamlet of woodcutters and fishermen, only occasionally bothered by savage Kruthar barbarians raiding from the northern hills.

It is the year 295 AC - that is, the 295th year After the Crowning of the first Emperor in Tyrhennea. Early in the spring, villagers began disappearing, and rumors circulated of goblyns being sighted in the woods. Search parties found mysterious ruins and numerous tracks in and out of a doorway, beyond which lay a stairway winding deep below the ground...

Ash Slayum is a veteran warrior, dungeon-delver, and treasure-hunter. His martial prowess is exceptional, his survival instincts are keen, and his word is his bond (which may be why he rarely gives it). He speaks little of himself or his past, but his men-at-arms have occasionally hinted at a tragic love with a woman of the Faer Folk.

Svaarden is a wandering holter and hunter, an expert archer and master of woodcraft. He is, however, very short on people-skills, but rarely lets that stop him from putting his foot into his mouth. He's also untrustworthy and unpredictable, but he's never turned against the party, technically.

Ash and Svaarden met in the dungeon when their respective search parties were wiped out by the underworld's denizens. They have delved successfully together for many months, and eventually incorporated the party into an official treasure-hunting company, endorsed by Baron Blackhart. The rest of the party looks to them as unofficial leaders, a fact complicated by their conflicting ethical perspectives.

The rest of the party includes:

Clementine, a cleric of the Sacred Order of St Alcidine. She is a holy warrior dedicated to battling the restless dead and all the eldritch horrors of the underworld. Capturing the treasures of the spawn of Chaos is a victory for her order and for the gods of Law.

Billium Dedpulius, or "Bill" to his friends, is a magic-user of the secret fraternity of Wizards. His order devotes itself to constructive spellcraft and forbids the destructive and world-warping magicks of sorcery. His mentor, Incanus, attempts to provide the guiding light of wisdom, but Bill's obsession with vanquishing the creatures of darkness has led him to be tempted by the forbidden lore of sorcery.

Nylian is a native of Sham, the daughter of Weyland the Smith, and has always been restless in the quiet village. Even as a child she was a rough-and-tumble tomboy, constantly getting into fights with boys twice her size - and often winning. Her father tried to teach her the Hammercraft to channel her energies toward productivity, but where he embraced the constructive aspects of the Thunder Lord Tanaris, Nylian was drawn to his warlike aspect. She joined the militia before even completing her apprenticeship at the smithy, and Kruthar savages have learned a wary respect for "the hammer girl." When the delving party began returning to town with great treasure and harrowing tales, she informed them in no uncertain terms that she was now joining them.

Gottfried also grew up in Sham, and like Nylian he longed for more excitement than the little village could provide. He was raised on stories of his piratical uncle, Magnus the Raver, and joined the militia with hopes of learning the skill to fight at his uncle's side. When called upon to defend Sham against Kruthar raids, Gottfried displayed a berserker's spirit, heedless of danger, knowing only the drive to slay his foes. When Magnus  came to visit his sister and nephew, he and Gottfried joined Ash & Svaarden's party in hunting monstrous adders in the woods. Magnus was calcified by an adder's toxic blood, and Gottfried swore to find and destroy the monsters' nest. With the party's help, he succeeded, and earned his place among the delvers.

The Stars are Right

After almost a year (really?) without updating, I'm finally taking the time to use this blog for its intended purpose again. Madness!

The campaign has been awesome. The players, despite coming mainly from 3.5 backgrounds, have responded enthusiastically to the old-school vibe - the most enjoyable and most intense game sessions are not the ones where they fight a huge monster, but the ones where they have to figure out a trap or a puzzle. Still, some of the guys prefer their options to be spelled out more plainly. Between that desire from certain players and my own desire to work out a few of the kinks that still bug me in the whitebox rules, I've been working out a lot of house rules that I'd like to organize and present plainly for easy reference.