The campaign is went on for quite some time – long enough for the group reaching level 6 in the system Lamentations of the Flame Princess. A campaign review.
I called it “Decisions of Kings” when I planned it, but player decisions led far away from that, and it was soon colloquially called “Elves & Men”. The setting is classic LotFP 30-years-war, with fantasy races thrown into the mix. The party was initially composed of 1 Elf, 1 Fighter, 1 Specialist, 1 Magic User and 1 “Alice”, a special character build, and took on the classic introduction adventure “Tower of the Stargazer”.
House Rules & Deviations
I had planned to make this campaign a test campaign to test different rules, but it turned out the Rules as Written in Lamentations of the Flame Princess are perfectly fine. There still are some specials:
We forget misfire rules for the guns all the time.
We forget lighting fuses for matchlock-guns just as often.
So they do not come into play usually, unintentionally. I will probably keep ignoring the fuses, but I want to remember misfire rules.
The Fighter is a sniper and owns a special hardcore musket with a scope, granting him +6 instead of +4 for aiming a round. It is also a rifled flintlock musket, so this gun is a very valuable, powerful item in the campaign. Still, one shot is not nearly enough to end most fights, so he carries several pistols and an extra rifle with no special bells and whistles for follow-up-shots.
The campaign started with classic fantasy religions: A Light God and several generic Pantheons. The Reformation was represented by different ways of Worship for the Light God. Close enough, and since the party did not even have a cleric, it seemed not important to go into more detail.
However, the players kept asking if this was representing Catholicism and if that was representing Protestantism, and how far the fantasy religion was differing from either, and what the exact differences between them were, so that I finally had to decide between creating deep lore or adopt real life. I dropped it and went with real-world-confessions as the fastest way to avoid confusion and the necessity of creating deep theology.
The magic-user desired a dog and got one. This was very helpful, but got killed in action early on, and he bought a trio of dogs later. The dogs have individual stats and specialities (combat, hunting, tracker) and acted on the magic-user’s initiative. They got individual stats by breed.
Initially the party had some luck; one player, a LOT of luck; surviving brushes with death, and the players asked to change characters to maximum HP at every level. I allowed it, but in retrospect it has to be said that this makes combat encounters very heavily slanted towards the characters, in addition to their powerful items. I would not allow it again, but for this campaign I am rolling with it.
It is a bother, at least in my mind: Maximum HP makes a lot of difference, they are hardly ever in danger when they fight normal people.
am tempted to have started to give some NPCs maximum HP as well, but I resist it but not many because mutual power creep would only lead to impossibly long combats, and then I could just as well play 5e.
The good thing is that despite their titanic strength, they are still nervous most of the time and still mostly act as if they were squishy.
But obviously in the final run I will have to challenge them more sternly. You cannot conquer a nation without pushing yourself. So at least the Musketeers of the King and the Guards of the Cardinal Richelieu have to bring maximum HP into the mix as well.
Some party members are highly interested in background lore, so with the help of one player we worked out an “official” map of the Elves & Men wider Europe plus North Africa, Ottoman Empire, Caucasus, and Muscovy. The campaign focus is much more local, though, so the big continental map has no bearing in sessions.
Making magic items
New player – a cleric – desires to create holy items. The rules cover only wands and staves, but they can form the basis for a system to make other magic items. One rules set that works with actual creation of magic items is Dungeon Crawl Classics. This too, can inspire a rule for the purpose here.
However, Lamentations has very, very few magic items on purpose, and making a magical effect permanent is a costly affair. Which I support as an idea, to prevent flooding the world with magical trinkets. Powerful magicks must demand a sacrifice. It is the way.
Not implemented, but this idea was on the table:
Over the course of the campaign, the non-Specialists got really envious of the Specialist and his growing skillset. They argued rightly, that it was weird to gain no fresh usable knowledge over a long, successful career. So we implemented a sort of multiclassing system. Whenever a non-specialist levelled up, he could choose to forego his own advancement (as a fighter, NOT get +1 to hit, as a caster, NOT gain more spells), and gain 2 skill points instead.
This works for Fighters, Clerics, M-Us, and Elves in Lamentations of the Flame Princess, and it also works for Specialists who wish to get better at killing by skipping their own skill advancement and taking a +1 to hit instead. But it is no option for Dwarves and Halflings. What about them? And why can’t everyone become a caster on levelling?
This house-rule is lopsided, and should not be adopted for other tables without serious refinement.
It is most probably best to have characters die before they start getting such ideas; which would be more common if I did not have this other troublesome house rule with the gigantic (on average, doubled!) supply of Hit Points.
The story so far
This group explored about half of the tower of the Stargazer and two players solved the treasure puzzle with surprising ease, getting fizzled twice, but the whole party survived and went off loaded with wizard cash.
Then they went west, (Alice dropping out) where I had prepared the option that they help the French Army to take down monsters in the untamed Broceliande Forest. However, on the way the party witnessed a Spanish troop besieging an Inn with the goal of capturing a French spy. Adventure design saw them freeing the Inn and kicking the Spaniards’ asses, but the party supported the Spanish and helped them capture the spy. They went on and remained anti-French, deciding to support the Elven quasi-Kingdom in the Bretagne with a long-term goal of toppling the King in Paris and replacing him with an Elf.
They convinced a war camp of Elves of the Living Wood to refrain from tactics like spreading plagues and unleashing monsters against normal folk, and promoted a battle for the hearts and minds of the peasants.
Several hit-and-run successes against French troops got them an audience with the Elven King Bruissement, who granted the MU and the Elf a magic ring each, to store 4 extra spells (by casting them into it, so it takes some time to load up. The artifact is still very powerful). The group decided to move out to find allies for the Broceliande Forest among the other powers of Europe, and after hearing that England had its own civil war and was not likely to be bothered helping Continent Elves, chose the Holy Roman Empire over Spain.
The Specialist met a pond nixie and was offered to join her for a year and a day to be her companion. He postponed this to avoid leaving his friends all alone, so he got a blessing by the nixie and is awaited once his quest is completed.
The Elf rolled very well on almost all languages the group encountered, so he is a great polyglot.
1 Scarecrow, 1 Witch & 2 Demons
Crossing the Border from France into Savoy, where they solved the Scarecrow-Adventure with only minor wounds, and from there into the war-torn Holy Roman Empire. Here they met a weird bishop, were mightily creeped out by him, and then they cast a spell at him, and he ate it with gusto. They fled, then, and laid an ambush with a cannon. This proved strong enough, and they destroyed him. He split open and spewed forth a hundred creepy biting bugs which fell upon the townsfolk. There was much fighting and hewing until they were all slain.
Then they took out the abbot of the nearby cloister, who was in cahoots with that bishop, and freed a mine that used slave labour, and also had a demon, a crab demon. This one was tough to crack, but was brought low by clever use of an Unseen Servant.
The whole adventure brought them the friendship and support of a small Protestant region and its mercenary army, as well as two additional retainers, a Human Fighter and an Orc Fighter.
To take on France they will need more, so they went farther East to find Wallenstein and his army, to turn it against Paris. A steep task, but they are going to try it. On the way they met a Protestant Faction called Free Western Army, and offered to help it against Catholic Marauders. But before that, they solved the pre-made adventure with the Post-Wedding-Murder and the Knight of Science, gaining his approval and trust, and therefore a good reputation. At this point one player – the Magic User – split.
Supported by 60 soldiers the party went to search for the approximately 40 marauders. They scouted ahead and found them, and stormed their hideout without the 60 soldiers, using powerful mass effect spells and their combat skills in tandem.
At this point, two fresh players joined, a Dwarf (a faithful Hussite) and another Magic User (very chaotic).
Interrogating the Boss they found out about a planned attack on a Catholic monastery and its Elven guests, due early morning the day after tomorrow. They talked their 60 into coming with them, left the captive marauders with 10 guards and force-marched deep into Catholic territory.
Monks & Elves
There they warned the monastery and the Elves – a princess and her bodyguard – and organized a defense with Elves, monks, and villagers from a nearby tiny settlement. Using the power of surprise they inflicted casualties and forced the attackers to retreat, then they pursued and heavily wounded one of their leaders, and captured a young witch.
At this point the new magic user player went uboat, leaving four players again.
With one leader down the attackers decided to retreat for good, and the now four-player party organized a full fledged counterattack on the retreating bandits using the protestant troops, routing the bandits and capturing the wounded boss.
After interrogation they sent the captives to Wallenstein with monks and villagers, to explain via letter what had happened. They themselves decided to support the Elves in their mission: going farther south into Baden Württemberg to counter a deadly epidemic with the help of anti-magic, as the Elves suspected magic behind the outbreak.
The next step of their journey was loosely based on Zzacharov Kowolski’s “Punchline“, (but differed in many key aspects). The idea at this point was to sort out this pescy epidemic and then go to Wallenstein to win his support for an attack on France.
The party travelled south to Weidhofen, met refugees, then heard of a missing girl. They exploded into immediate action, found three enemies and killed them and saved the girl. At this point, two of the party got infected. They did not lose any momentum, returned the girl, killing another foe on the way. Then checked a farm, where the inhabitants had been murdered, and killed the perps, taking three prisoners. They spent the night and interrogated the prisoners in the morning. Then murdered them.
One fresh player joined with another magic user, but advised that he was just dipping in for one session. He became a 1st level local.
The group became aware of the first infections, but ignored them for now, moved on to attack the ruins, murdered a bunch of enemies, including the top dogs, then moved on into the other valley, Gablingen, where they found the plague in full swing. They kept moving and in a quick push destroyed the whole cult and freed a second kidnapping victim, an orphan. They also took two prisoners – one of them from the inner circle.
At that point, they had five infected, and shit got real.
Hygiene and Healing
They had, however, a healing specialist with them, the Elven princess. So their chances were a bit improved, as her skills could lessen the impact of the deadly plague. That was important, since two core characters had CON scores of 7 – practically certain death with the Red Death effects.
However, all of them made their Poison saves, players and NPCs alike. And the Elven Princess of the Line treated them with great care and failed only two rolls, one for the Orc and one for her bodyguard. Then she herself got infected and came down with the fever, also made the save, but with no-one to pick and prepare the right herbs she had to endure the sickness alone. Almost a miracle: Only the Elven Bodyguard perished off the sickness, and the princess permanently lost 2 point of CON. The Orc and the human fighter were struck the worst, but both survived and avoided any lasting consequences. The elf lost one point of his already low CON, and among the NPCs, the little girl they saved suffered such a permanent CON-loss that she came out with CON 3 – scarred for life.
Impossible luck for all the player characters in a very deadly situation.
Bio-War, Rumors & Refugees
The brush with death drove home with the Elf that they had made little headway to bring France to its knees. So he had a fresh idea: Charm as many sick plague bearers as possible and send them all to Paris, to thin out the population of France. However, that idea found very little purchase with the Dwarf and with the Elven princess. She did not see much difference between that approach and the actions of the clowns.
The Elf relented, sullenly.
Instead, they brought the two surviving clowns to the Elf princess’ clan of the Line, where the clowns were locked up in a mountain for experimenting for a treatment. The princess and the little girl returned with fresh resources to the plague area to treat people. The others followed the descriptions of the lead clown to find the source of the plague, one castle Hohenrain, with six elves from House of the Line.
It was a lot of travel and picking up rumors: Wallenstein had already been fired by the Catholic League, his army was basically immobile. The Swedes were running rampant in the north, conquering shit, with Tully unable to contain them. Refugees were fleeing from Swedish brutality, cities had closed down because of plague outbreaks… and the Swiss had locked down the River Rhein to keep sick and hungry German peasants out.
But the party forced their way through the press of refugees and successfully negotiated their way across the barricaded bridge, reached peaceful Swiss lands, and Hohenrain. There the way to the castle was sealed off with friendly guards, and the population rumored something about vampirism. So the team stocked up on garlic and wooden stakes and holy water, and they snuck in in the dead of night.
The party climbed over the wall into the courtyard and was attacked by two silent dogs. They also found a dead youth, apparently a burglar, mauled by those dogs. In the stables, dead horses, in the servant quarters, three more silent dogs, and in a wagon in the center of the courtyard, five boxes with valuable items, prepared for moving them out of here … which never happened. They entered the main tower and found it empty, but also found a hidden basement. Down in the basement some devious traps, dead mutants and several acid-spewing critters with poison stings. But also gold painted on the walls, which they scraped off, even though it took all night.
One of the six elves got killed by the acid, one got heavily wounded and scarred, and the human warrior retainer was stung and poisoned, so the troop number is down three for exploration of the main central building and the chapel of Schloss Hohenrain.
They went through all the rooms in a methodical manner and found signs of someone looting before them, also found loot, various victims of the Red Plague, and a dead man spread out over an area, a huge, heavy, magical mirror of unknown properties, and a secret shrine to Satan. Killing the silent hounds where they found any, opening secret doors, and investigating the dead, the team avoided the ballroom for now, because they were able to see that some red mist is moving inside that ballroom, and two soldiers lie dead in front of its double doors. While most of the dead are four weeks old, and rotting heavily, the soldiers are merely one week old.
They moved all the dead out into the courtyard for burying / burning at a later point, and to air our the castle. Then they checked the chapel, where they found an Ossarium underground, with a cut rope, and down below, a hungry, weird woman. She suddenly attacked and looked like a ghoul, but the Elf managed to glimpse that she was a living being, captured her alive and put a Charm Spell on her. They fed her and found out she was one of five burglars who had come here to loot the castle. But there was treachery, and she was left below the Chapel to die.
A new player character showed up: A cleric who came up here to slay the vampires that rumors tell about. Together, they bury all the dead properly, then tackle the red mist by way of the huge magical mirror, sending most of it through the mirror to where-ever, and killing the tiny rest of the mist with holy water.
Then the party loaded up all the loot and pulled the wagon down the hill by hand. The cleric distracted the soldiers with an Enthralling sermon, the Elf blasted them with sleeping spells.
Getting rid of the money
The party went to Zürich in Switzerland to sell loot and learn spells. They decided to err on the side of caution and NOT sell it yet, to sell it in Bavaria, just to make sure nobody would recognize any artwork or items and connect them to the sacking of Schloss Hohenrain. They spent a lot of money during their stay, piled up a debt, and the cleric developed a new spell for himself. After almost a month they left and got back into Bavaria via Schaffhausen. From there they travelled not to Wallenstein, but to Munich first, to sell. Then they would move to the Dwarves, maybe, to secure financing for a possible Wallenstein hire.
In Munich they sold it all and paid off their Swiss debt, but got out of that almost broke. Only their new retainer specialist provided a few funds by “finding” one or two purses.
They spread word of their intention to find luck in the west, towards France, and attempted to convince soldiers of the Catholic League to come with them, but those have their command structure to obey, so no luck. Only two officers who know Wallenstein from way back and are now on sick leave are up to travelling to Tübingen with the group.
A rumor told of a ghost problem north of Munich.
Getting rid of the ghost
The party negotiated with an investing house about a possible fee to get rid of the ghost. They got a contract, but they got no forward payment for that. And the investors demand independent verification about a possible success. They went to the old house north and uncovered a twenty year old family drama. After interrogating villagers they developed a theory that the main baddie may be still alive, and the ghost a victim bent on revenge.
The party managed to capture the baddie and confront the ghost with him. The ghost was unreasonable, though, so they did not hand over the baddie, but rather kill him in front of the ghost, but out of her reach. Then they secured a proper Catholic burial for all the dead, and purged spiritual energy from an old diary. That won it.
The Cleric went on to develop the young village priest into a full Cleric, and cement the party’s new friendship with the village. Meanwhile, the rest of the party went back to Munich to report success and collect independent verification and the money.
To their surprise, they found that during their absence word about their quest for mercenaries had spread, and there were now 22 random mercenaries with an assortment of different weapons, and 2 sergeants were waiting for them, hoping for getting to come along.
They hired the troop, but for weekly payment, because they did not have the funds for a full month of mercanary salary. Then they decided to go to Wallenstein later, and first secure funds to pay their own small, and his large army. So they went to Dwarves in the Alps, looking for opportunities to become friends worth supporting. And of course, there was a Dwarf Count with a problem, deep underground, where the Svirfneblin, allied to the Dwarves, live. A spectral hand of darkness has shown up and killed. A party of ten Dwarves that went down to investigate lost four of their number, then retreated, figuring that the news must reach the Dwarfholds. So the help from humans is accepted. The dwarf of the party knew of an old legend which says that such hands can be destroyed with moonlight.
Aside from these deep problems, the Dwarves have a more obvious problem in the form of Goblins, which results in an underground war going on outside of human sight.
The group experimented with the mirror taken from Schloss Hohenrain and tried to open it up to capture moonlight with it, however to no avail. They dropped this line of research and went underground instead, led by six dwarves who know the land where the Deep Gnomes live and the spectral hand was spotted.
Veins of the Earth
For 12 hours they travelled deeper and deeper through the mines, then found the Deep Village of the dwarves, where they spent the night. On the next day they moved through various caverns and gaps and crawlspaces, shook off the terror of being buried under a million tons of rock, and reached the City of the Deep Gnomes. On the way they met three cave spiders and two coral zombies. They were quite mindful about the light sources and made do with as little light as possible.
Among the Deep Gnomes they were welcomed, and here they heard that while the Dwarves fear the Hand of Darkness that lives in the Old Deep, the birthplace of spirits, the Deep Gnomes do not worry much about it. They instead fear the Great Crawler, who destroys the Earth Mother and turns rock into sand.
Their common foes are the Coral Zombies, or Death Stones in the words of the Deep Gnomes. Other dangers of the deep are flowing water, stagnant water, and the poisonous Cave Spiders, as well as the rare fossil vampires, and, of course, scouting goblins who may herald larger troop contingents.
The Hand of Darkness
The group decided to go after the hand first, as by the initial plan. They traversed a series of caves and tunnels of varying size and fought Coral Zombies and spiders along the way. Shortly before the end of their way, after travel that would take a day but took one and a half due to the spiders, they met a patrol of Goblins, tricked them into giving up their hiding place, and took them down.
Then they found the mining tunnel, where Rognar Ratcatcher the Miner oversees excavation work by Svirfneblin. They followed the tunnel back down into the dark, until they found the Cave of the Hand, 130 feet deep, cut from the rock by ice, and with various egg-shaped rock forms sitting on crystalline sand. The group explored carefully, using light, as the hand fears it, and an Unseen Servant bearing a torch. The hand showed up as the opportunity presented itself, and tried to take the orc, but the Elf noticed it in time, and Elf and Cleric attacked the hand and forced it to retreat. By bringing in more light, they prevented it from returning.
They cracked open the egg-forms and found them hollow, with crystals inside, which they hacked from the eggs during the following days, aided by 40 Svirfneblin and Dwarves from the Deep Village. Over a period of a bit over a week of hard labor they depleted the eggs and amassed enough wealth to pay their mercenaries for years, even after sharing with the Deep Folk.
With everyone levelled up, they went on to explore the next tunnel, an exit to the “south”, although cardinal directions matter little in these environments.
They followed the tracks left by the ice from when it hollowed out the caves, walking in fine crystalline sand, and found “crossroads” of sorts, with a large sand cave, a drop down, a slide up, and a maze of small tunnels.
Exploring the sand cave, the party encountered sandworms. They let three play bait / melee, while the rest of the group shot at the worms. That went rather well, and they took out several worms, but more were there. The party retreated, and the wounded Elf retreated to the egg cave and up to the mining shaft, aided and protected by the cleric. But he gave the others invisibility, and the dwarf, flying, to aid them in exploration. They checked out some of the corridors, but not far. The dwarf flew around the worm cave and noted several boulders in it, and wormsigns under the sand; He flew up and found a goblin camp by a lake on a plateau. Then he flew down and found dark water and coral seams, and an ice cave. Following the ice cave he discovered a blockade – an ancient wall of dwarven design, but not of any clan or culture he was familiar with, with a stone portal that he could not open.
So he returned, within the time frame given to him by the spell, and the group decided to retreat with the Elf and heal up.
When the group returned with dwarves to build a lift and explore the ancient dwarfwork, they were shot at from above. So the dwarves stopped working and took cover, and it was clear that the goblins had to be taken out. The group gave it three days of quiet to lull the goblins in a false sense of security, then they piled themselves and their six dwarves into a big ball and cast “Invisibility in 10 feet radius”. Then the Elf and the Dwarf, with the power of flight, airlifted people up, one by one, to build an invisible beachhead. They identified the threats and started a surprise attack. In the chaos, females and kids fled, while the men were slaughtered or spelled to sleep, or, in one case, spelled with Charm Person. Noobog the Goblin was now a fan of the Elf, and the party promised to make him boss of the local Goblins.
After ferrying up all dwarves they could find far and wide, thus securing the plateau (and the Cleric managing to capture and tame a pale giant cave bug, a spider-eater now called “Baka”), they powered up Noobog and sent him to the Goblin fort close by to challenge the local boss for leadership. The boss accepted, and thanks to the magic help, Noobog narrowly defeated him in a tough duel. His gruesome killing of the stronger boss by biting through his throat secured Noobog’s status among the goblins and allowed him to declare the fight against the local dwarves ended.
Now the dwarves are free to build the lift and explore the ancient ruins.
While the construction was going on, the party identified and catalogued loot, among it a very durable dwarven axe, an Armring of Haste (1 x per day), and a magical Horn that effectively casts Power Word Stun on somebody when blown, but endangers the user with an unknown magical effect.
[The group went on to never use the thing.]
They returned after three days and descended with and expedition of 27 dwarves to check out the old dwarven wall. On the way there they found a dead dwarf and a damaged helmet of another Dwarf clan, the Deep Dwarg. At the wall they encountered 8 coral zombies, destroyed them (lost 1 dwarf in the process) and carved out the coral seam they came from.
The PCs managed to open the dwarf wall and found stale air, and a lonely, old defenders’ castel behind it, basically a little fortification, filled with a lot of ash. The cleric cast Augury to find the most beneficial way to go (front, left, or right) and so they went forward and found a machine that the Dwarf identified as a steam-powered, semi-autonomous transport cart that he dubbed “Emma”. All the walls and floors are soot-blackened and piles of ash are everywhere. Is this a logical result of employing a steam engine underground, or is something more sinister at work here in the Deep Dwarfhold? Or Dwarghold.
Within the machine, three dead dwarves were found in the locomotive, and a whole group of civilian dwarves, all dead and skeletal, in the carriage.
Carefully following the tracks the group found a center hub, a dome where twelve such corridors meet, with a hole down into darkness in the center. The hole is guarded with magical symbols, defending it from evil things from below, as it seems. But where is everyone? What happened?
They found that the area they came from is full of ash, another area is cool and moist, and a third has weird roots hanging from the ceiling — roots that turn out to be aggressive, and immune to fire, the wet part turns out to have cursed former dwarves, now half-snails, sucking their way along the ceilings of some corridors.
Breaking the curse by magic fails, and one snail-dwarf must be slain. Then they attack the roots with holy water, which is effective, and find valuable treasure. The cleric tried a spell of his own devising against the roots, to great effect: He burns away a whole area of them. But his bright holy light also alerts a monster: A fantastically powerful demon-eye comes from one of the tunnels.
I described the monstrosity as “a creature that has no place in our world”, only to be schooled by enlightened players that this was “judgemental talk” and it was not something to decide on the basis of appearance .. even if that appearance was a giant, shimmering eyeball stalking through an ashen wasteland on grey leafs and plantstalks while gargling in an ominous voice.
The demon was a powerhouse of magical abilities, immune to most magics, but vulnerable to physical attacks. He also had 10 HD and the ability to incinerate targets over distance. Despite all that, he was slain right away, by a concentrated firing squad of dwarf-NPCs, organised by the party Dwarf. One volley of black powder shot, and the Eyeball-Demon died before unpacking any of his murderous skills.
The party went on exploring and found another, as yet unknown exit from this Dwarg-complex, and a second demon, this one water-bound and exuding strange lights. They shot at it, and, when it fled, hunted it with shots from the air (fly-spell to avoid the water), also very effective. He died, helpless against flying attackers, while his curse-snails watched.
Then the party retreated and slept in the treasure room for a night before going for fresh cursebreakings by their freshly levelled cleric. One failed, one succeeded, and they freed a wizened, hungry old Dwarg from the shackles of demonic curses.
The Dark Sun
Next the party burned away the roots, weathered poisonous barbs on them, and found the temple. They identified runes that had been used to temper with a protective circle and repaired it. The cleric channelled all his holy fervor and banished the giant demon plant in the ceiling, so all the roots died.
Then they inspected the whole complex and found the chronicles of the tribe, which called itself the Clan of the Dark Sun, in opposition to the New Sun God of the humans that the topside dwarves chose to worship.
Bottom line: The Dwarg had gone deep, but they had struggled to feed themselves. They tried to summon and bind Hepti, the Goddess of Live and Earth, and force her to feed them. This had, at some point, gone horribly wrong, and the whole tribe had paid the price.
Successful in freeing the dwarfhold, the Elf created a portal back to Tyrol, and they brought treasure and news back home.
The group is now rich, their mercenaries are paid and happy, the Dwarves are thankful and promise their help, calling the group Friends of Dwarvenkind. Lord Isgrum writes to the King Under the Mountain supporting their cause to fight France. Elf, Fighter, and Specialist hunger to return to France. The cleric desires to buy the lands of the ghost’s dad to build vineyards and a monastery.
What will they do? Only the players can decide.
The party recruited almost 200 dwarven volunteers and organised them into four companies, one of which is an logistics company, one is scouts, one sappers, and one sappers/light artillery. They moved northward to find Wallenstein in the north of Bohemia, where he had retired as the privatier he now was. On the way through Tyrol and Salzburg they also hired some humans, most of them green troops, but a handful of experiences veterans who have already served under Wallenstein.
Crossing the Danube at a frightened Passau that expected Swedish marauders at any time now, they crossed Bohemia and actually met a troop of Swedish scouts. But the Elf cast sleep on them and charmed their leader, and so the Swedish scouts joined the group for a while … although they declared they could not switch services and leave their King. They could only be friends, and invite the Elf to join the Swedish instead. An offer that was repeated by other Swedish up in the shadow of Wallenstein’s castle.
The group managed to meet Wallenstein and, over passionate plaedoyer and with the help of three dwarven accountants, and building on the reputation they had garnered from their defense of the monastery at Allerheiligen and the Molsheim battle against the demonic infestation, they actually managed to convince him to join their team. But he is a big man in Europe, so he won’t be a servant, he will be a partner.
Their idea: Attack France and kill the her king! was modified slightly by Wallenstein into a more light-footed and mobile strategy, and from their hopes to shatter a Kingdom in one feel swoop into economic warfare and political pressure: Attack the weak Savoy, topple it, then move on into l’Occitane and make trouble, bind lots of French troops and lead them on a merry chase, while a second wave of Habsburg troops consolidates Savoy to strengthen Spanish access to the Low Countries and reconnecting the two Houses Habsburg.
They made a deal, and a friend of Wallenstein’s, Colloredo, was sent to Vienna to convince the Archduke to follow up on this chance to re-settle lost Habsburg power in the wake of this privatier independent “terrorist” action.
They split up: The cleric flew north on his flying mount, to find and secure the battle flag of Jeanne d’Orleans, for legitimacy. The group with their dwarven army would speed through Bavaria and strike through the Franche-Comté at Savoy North. While Wallenstein himself would travel south to the Swiss Lands and Mantua, and raise a fresh independent army, and attack Savoy from the East.
What began as stealing from a wizard and creeping through the woods suddenly turned drastically into armies and strategy.
The cleric flew alone right into Northern France to Compiègne to seek out the battle standard of Jeanne of Orleans, in order to carry it with the troops. The thought was that it could wreck French morale seeing the revered flag of the sainted fighter turned against their own King. It was supposed to undermine the King’s legitimacy. However, he learned that many are those who seek to use that flag for their various purposes, so the original flag has been hidden away. He tried to unearth it, and instead unearthed three vampiric cursed devil worshippers, whom he overcame. Finally, he made do with a replica and re-joined the others.
Thanks to the speed of flight, he reached the rallying point in Molsheim long before the troops. The others meanwhile solved an encounter with the Swedish by negotiations, saved a village they knew from starving, and recruited more fighters, and borrowed mercenaries from Molsheim. They also found their old Magic User again and convinced him to come with them as magic artillery. Then they moved through the Franche Compté and into Northern Savoy. First they attempted stealth, but 5800 soldiers are hard to hide. Once they were noticed, they switched to speed, and raced toward Turin, the captial of Savoy, in force marches, crossing rivers with magical support.
With a ruse using captured uniforms of killed Savoyard Cavalry, a forward detachment took one double gate by surprise in the late evening. They quickly subdued or sleep-spelled all troops of Turin and held the gate until the foot-soldiers arrived. They managed to keep this all secret until the troops got there, and then started to roll up the city wall using dwarven units, while the mercenary units closed in on the Citadel, a separate fortification in the southwest of the city, which was held by French “guest” troops. Meanwhile, a small special force moved into the Palace in the north of the city, with the plan to kidnap the Duke and “turn” him with one of the Elf’s “Charm Person” spells, to make him order his troops to stand down and ally with the new invaders against the French.
(Shifting back and forth between troops and man-to-man-fight turned out to be tricky. The focus switches quickly, and using any kind of mass combat rules means switching back and forth between rules sets from one combat round to the next.)
Kidnapping the Duke and Duchess worked out. They airlifted in with Baka the giant bug and got in by window, Sleep-spelled the guards and the Elf smothered the Duke (Victor Amadeus I.) with a pillow until he passed out. Meanwhile, the fighter respectfully entered the bedroom of the Duchess (Christine de Bourbon) and asked her in a polite way to comply. He informed her that 5000 troops were already inside the city and moving to capture the walls and strategic spots, and he would ask her to get dressed and follow him to keep bloodshed to a minimum.
She believed him and complied, but negotiated that her maid in waiting could stay back in the palace. The officer agreed, and she came willingly. The pair of noble hostages was airlifted out to the wall, which was meanwhile captured by the dwarven detachments.
An attempt by the Orc NPC, the Elf and the Dwarf to storm and capture the Citadel with 1300 men took 3 whole sessions and cost several hundred lifes. The French were initially taken by surprise by the midnight charge, but slowly got their wits back and built resistance in mounting quality. But the attackers managed to secure a sally port and drip in a steady supply of reinforcements, so the north tower became the strategic linchpin of the battle.
The Elf and Dwarf were busy securing the North Tower and projecting troops along the walls and in the courtyard, and the Dwarf attempted a legendary, impossible heroic action running right through the enemy lines to attack and kill the French commander (failing as other French interposed themselves between him and his target). PC-loyal troops conquered cannons and turned them inwards. A cannon-duel from wall to wall ensued, which the PC-loyal troops won thanks to two critical hits, and one critical miss at a French cannon, blowing it up.
Meanwhile, the Orc-retainer wreaked terrorist havoc among the barely awake French troops (midnight!) at first, but as the turns ticked by the French got more organised and retaliated. The Orc-retainer lost all members of his terrible forward strike force and remained alone – and so met the most potent French fighter in the Citadel, an Amazon NPC (Frostbitten & Mutilated Rules) named Madeleine LaFolie, a skilled and ferocious fighter, for a duel that should be classic film material.
They turned out to be very evenly matched, but the orc had a slight advantage in strength, and the dice were with him as well, so he reduced her to -1 HP, while he himself remained at 20. It was with a heavy heart that he struck her down, for he had never met such a worthy adversary until now. But strike her down he did. Then he raced away, fleeing her swarming minions, to keep up binding troops that would otherwise oppose his friends.
The others meanwhile felt that they needed to rest and regroup, but they also saw that this was not in the cards. The Elf decided to just stand and fight until they would all die against the French numbers advantage. He sooner wanted to die than retreat, but was sure this was the end.
The dwarf was more confident if they would just manage to keep control of the gate. So he took what forces he could and threw them all against the east tower. That coincided with a French attack from that direction, so the troops battled it out until the walls ran red with blood.
But both sides kept winning morale rolls, and in fact, both sides had to win this: the Gate side of the Citadel was the key to victory.
They got some 200 dwarves as reinforcement, so they kept the dwarf as a defense and threw what men they had into a renewed attack — and they overwhelmed the French and took the east tower. French survivors flooded back to the southeastern tower.
Dig in or keep moving? They kept moving. They pulled back from the battle to throw their men against the western tower. This again coincided with a French offensive that banked on the idea that they would hold on to their fresh gains and dig in. So the French suffered more losses, and the then it was full on fight in the northwestern wall, and throwing fresh reinforcements and dwarves all into the offensive, the group won and the western tower folded. The Orc stumbled back among friends, with a quarter of his hit points remaining.
The French had lost three out of five towers, and more than half their men, and they had lost the gate and both sally ports to an enemy that came from the city, from inside the walls. Of only slightly more than 2000 French soldiers, there were 920 left.
The attackers had suffered worse: They had gotten here with 1300, and had lost 880. However, they had gotten 400 men in reinforcements, so they stood at 820.
They would get more reinforcements over time, while the French would not, and re-taking both sally ports seemed an unlikely task for the bloodied Frenchmen. So they did the sensible thing and raised the parlay flag.
Hostilities ended with slightly more than half of the Citadel in the hands of the slightly smaller army. No more attacks, no more shots, both sides hunkered down to lick their wounds.
For parlay, they waited for their Fighter, who had often enough proven to be the smooth talker of the group.
The fighter took the Duchess with him to the negotiations; he denied the French safe conduct to France, based on the assumption that they would otherwise be ordered to fight him again, but offered them to stay and work under the command of the Duchess. They had to reject this as treason, but she offered to hold them as hostages in this very fortress, and they accepted.
The cleric flew out on his bug and found allies approaching, the fighter let the Duchess raise flags of the Empire and send riders under his command. With these signals of alignment, he rode out to meet Wallenstein and Moritz of Savoy, Victor Amadeus’ brother, and their 17.000 troops. Moritz was dismayed that his hope to strike down his brother and his wife was foiled, but foiled it was. He showed little interest in the French campaign and elected to stay in Savoy and send Wallenstein and the party on, and suggested they take Christine de Bourbon with them as a hostage, but the fighter declined; inwardly as a gentleman, outwardly by pointing out that if King or Cardinal of France were possessed or replaced by demons, they would not be deterred by hostages, regardless how closely related to the King of All France.
The fighter tried to bait Moritz into joining the campaign with the promise of titles and new lands in conquered regions of France, but Moritz single-mindedly wanted the throne of Savoy for his other brother, Thomas, currently working for Spain. To unknown ends, he also sought to find out where the children of Victor and Christine were, as they were not to be found in the palace, but he did not find out and the party did not help him investigate.
Re-organising the troops for pushing on to France, Wallenstein and the party discussed various options and settled for crossing the Alps stealthily in separate detachments to re-unite in and
1) crossing the Rhône south of Lyon and Vienne at a new dwarven ponton bridge to advance to the Auvergne and then north on Orleans to incite revolt by means of the flag of Jeanne d’Arc.
2) Keeping in mind the might of the French military apparatus, distract from this attempt by having some troops advance along the coast towards Marseille, and by coordinating with ships from Genoa and Spain.
We see that the game has developed from five guys robbing a wizard to an army of 19.000 crossing the Alps.
Cross the Rhône
The fighter as split the army 11.000 for Wallenstein and took 8.000 for crossing the Rhône, while Wallenstein’s group went south to make distracting drama around Nice, Marseille, and Avignon. From this point on, the group is out of contact with Wallenstein and just trusts him — after all, he is supposed to be a military genius.
In their own genius strike they transferred cavalry to the other side through a magic portal to cover the crossing of the infantry. During the crossing twenty scouts showed up and the cavalry lead tried to take them down with sleep spells, but it worked only so far, and some escaped. They alerted the rest of the local garrison and a line of some 1000 French came up the river. The cavalry attacked and squashed them, especially thanks to the cleric casting Entangle spells on the rear units. Still, some escaped, but got rounded up when the survivors after the first two cavalry charges surrendered.
While the cleric tried to convince the French to change sides and betray their home country just because the invaders say it is the right thing to do, suddenly and mysteriously their old friend the Magic User disappeared right out of his tent.
The party looked for him for an hour, but found him not. Eventually they decided to just ignore it.
Part of their allies looted the town and removed through a magic portal, taking the captured French with them back to Western Germany. The Gros of the army plus 550 French turncoats, brainwashed by the majestic show of the Cleric, went on towards Clairmont-Ferrand, through sparsely populated land to dodge French military until vital cities can be attacked.
The Cursed Chateau
On the way in the wilderness they spied an old Chateau and promptly (“new shiny thing syndrome!”) ordered their army to stay put and went to investigate. It is the Cursed Chateau of the selfsame module by James Maliszewski.
The party entered and first explored the outside, then turned toward the inside of the Chateau. They found the weird underground stuff right away, before anything up on top, ran lucky with the dice on encounters and destroyed Estève, and yet … and yet at this point I started harbouring serious doubts if they were going to make it out of there. Because, all things considered, the approaches that mean raging success, which they are total experts in and which are the basis of their extremely long and successful adventuring career, are not necessarily the best tactics to handle Chateau Ayarai.
But I was curious how they will surprise me.
And they did, when they quickly identified the possible escape routes, used magic to maximum advantage, and handled various traps well. They also leveraged the psychological issues of inhabitants well, as soon as they were able to identify them. On the other hand, the desire to be psychological and talk with everyone also bears risks: so one of them experienced a level drain when he was too nice to a particular opponent, and level drains are no laughing matter. This one came as a big shock, even though I built up to it in order to make it no ‘gotcha’ but a huge, telegraphed danger. Well: Sometimes even telegraphed dangers materialise into damage.
After destroying that threat, they destroyed Rixenda and one NPC, the charmed thief Herta from Switzerland, got long wavy blonde hair now, and has the innate ability to speak with flying animals once a day. Already used for the first day talking to the giant pale bug the cleric tamed, so some of the bug’s thoughts and hopes are now out in the open.
One very tight spot was when they spoke with a demon who likes to shapeshift, and they got to an understanding with him. He proposed a plan how they could work together, and his plan would have set the party up nicely for his interests. But the party, normally cautious, thought his plan sounded great, and they were almost ready to free him so they could all work together happily.
It may be no surprise to experienced players that it would have not gone well with a demon roaming free.
In the last moment they decided that they could solve the whole adventure with one cool spell and didn’t need the help of a demon, so they went off-plan and tried to kill it. Their spell was not strong enough, though. But they used the means provided in the module and managed to dispatch him anyway, right in the first round, with an init roll of 5 over 4, and with a critical hit on their attack. Luck with dice is ever on the side of this group.
With their plan to win with one single spell casting foiled, some of them regretted crossing the demon, though. They felt that they needed his help in order to win.
I wonder how it would have gone had they really followed the plan of the demon.
[Imagining various gory scenes]
[Could have been a campaign-ending event, depending on the dice]
Scorched House and Deep Water
Anyway, annoyed with getting nowhere with the house, they did their best and burned it down. In the process, they lost their orc to a ghul paralyze, but they went back to look for him and got him out in one piece. While the house was on fire, they took the apnoe exit, aided by a lot of magic. They shrunk with shrinking potions and were packed up like classy wine glasses in a good container. Then the dwarf, aided by invisibility, bless, and heroism spells grabbed a weighty item and got sinking. A dwarf, after a certain level, and with +4 levels through heroism, has no fear of saves. He transported his tiny comrades out to safety. And then he tried to get up to the surface and freedom. That was hard going, and much respect that he made it, barely alive, out to freedom.
[I made the exit slightly easier than written in the module, by reducing the water depth, but it was still very deadly and no human could have done it.]
Everyone was at the end of their endurance after spending days and days with the obnoxious ghosts. And truth be told, lower level characters, or even high level humans without a dwarf wouldn’t have made it. Having lots of spells and a dwarf made all the difference. They dubbed the module “The Annoying Chateau” and were glad to get back to open warfare with naked blades and shots against France. “From now on, let’s avoid anything that is not combat”, said one. “At least we got a lot of XP out of it!” said another, earning himself dirty looks from Mr. Level Drain, whose status was still diminished.
The cleric promised, though, to research a level-restoring spell as soon as France had fallen and he had the Churches of Paris at his beck and call.
Now onwards, to kill the King and the Cardinal! The army moved north and finally reached more densely settled areas. They crossed two rivers close to more relevant settlements south of Vichy and were not sure if they should start killing or be friendly. In a pinch they chose to be nice and explain their presence as being mercenaries to aid the crown.
That went well and they were allowed to camp outside of the market town of Issoire. They met the local baron and learned that France had some military troubles in the south, an army from Mantua running rampant in the Camargue, so people were wondering why they were moving north.
They also learned of a haunted place on a hill. They offered to look into it and received three men at arms to lead them there. Two of them stayed with the horses, but one was brave enough to bring them up to some old ruins with roman religious symbols, defaced by someone with other runes. Investigating, they found bones of humans and animals in a fireplace where an altar should be, and a secret entrance, and were attacked by a swarm of spiders. While battling the swarm, the sniper noticed an old woman in the wood and shot her. They rushed her and she gave as good as she got, until they knocked her out and bound her. Then the elf cast Charm Person on her and interrogated her with tenacious skill. He learned that she was “Little Frost”, a witch sent by a mighty coven on a mission of historical proportions, with the goal of bringing down the Human Faiths, by neutralizing clerical powers.
The Elf was, in general, okay with that. But bit by bit they uncovered horrible knowledge: The Elves in Broceliande did not want to bring down human belief systems, but they had several high level traitors who did. They worked in concert with the witches and had sent out three saplings of a sacred tree, to “safeguard”. However, they had sent them right into the clutches of the witches. It was all part of a big ritual, culminating where Land and Sea in Europe are one — the place that the humans call Skagerrak. The Cardinal of France was aware of some parts of this activity, apparently, and tried to torpedo the ritual, but the witch laughed about King and Church and claimed they were like powerless children in a game they did not understand. It remained open in what manner the war of France against Broceliande was connected to this situation.
Little Frost had kept the Elf with her sapling alive for more than a month, but had mutilated him and used parts of him to feed a werewolf, whom she intended to use as a personal guardian on her trek to the destination of her sapling; The Rock at the End of the Old World.
As she handed over the sapling to the party, her own familiar tried to stop it and even kill the charmed witch, but failed, as the sniper and the Elf took it down with shot and magic missiles. But it left some marks, and came close to destroying the witch or the sapling.
The witch’s abrasive behaviour and horrible atrocities annoyed the party deeply, and after they found the mutilated elf and the locked-up, tortured werewolf, they fell upon her and murdered, then burned her on a pyre before curing the werewolf. [I was happy to note one player say: “she is worse than most monsters, even demons, we ever faced” (.. and that while she was under the Charm Spell.)]
The army moved a bit farther north, debating the new information. The party Elf Akkar took over caring for the little white Tree of Life. Eberhard and “Jeanne” the imposter insisted on finishing off France — he in order to divide it among his friends and the Elf Lord Bruissement, she in order to rule it. But in the end they postponed this debate for the time after the victory.
And finally they understood that the Portal spell that Akkar owned was a fantastic boon. It would allow them to pop up right in Paris, without all the obnoxious travel before that. So the Elf rode off with most of the party, while Eberhard, the Cleric and “Jeanne” remained with the army.
About Jeanne: Max and his team have taught her prayers up and down, but to Max’ disappointment she fails to produce any cleric spells. She has learned arcane spells too, from Akkar’s library, but likewise, no spark. At least she shows a good amount of personal energy and soldiers follower her, and she has developed some grasp of strategy and tactics, and listens to Eberhard with interest when he tells her about Military History.
And that was the moment that the army was spotted, and France reacted.
During the time France needed to assemble a small host, the outriders reached Orleans and entered the city, marvelling at its massive defenses. And then they decided to open a portal back to the army to bring it right here, to Orleans, first.
The French host meanwhile took position north and west of the army and demanded surrender. Eberhard played mind games, posed as dumb idiot, and bullshitted them into giving him a bit of time until night fell. The French commander was dumb enough to give them a day. And then the portal to Orleans opened and Akkar asked if everything was fine.
Now decision: combat the French host south of Clermont-Ferrand or move out into an unsuspecting Orleans?
They decided to jump and moved out into Orleans. It was quite a tight situation, because a French mage was flying overwatch and noticed them walking into the barn. They shot him down, but the warning was out, and the French came up the hill. The Dwarf took some units and mounted a defense, and the first wave of French took some losses, so they went at it more carefully and shot up the hilltop from all sides. That cost the party and their armies their whole supply train with all the wagons, but they managed to remove themselves and five small field cannons into an early morning Orleans with minimal losses — only about 200 soldiers fell. Behind them, they closed the portal.
The priest and his four propagandist immediately started preaching to the unsuspecting population and (Cleric spell: “Enthrall”) managed to create a benefit of the doubt situation. They behaved themselves and didn’t hurt anyone, and the Elf cast “Charm Person” on the Mayor, so they got some kind of welcome, where most of the population was carefully-positive about them. After all, they had a Jeanne d’Arc, and they came out of the Cathedral.
But not everyone was smitten by them: Some houses barred their doors, and the university went into total lockdown. The party attempted to break into the university, but they inspected the doors and found them trapped with magic. So they flew into the university gardens with the giant bug and broke into an auditorium via the windows. They abstained from going further into the deeper parts of the uni, where unknown dangers lay. They just found a stash of potions, took that and retreated.
After a longer debate how to go on — the Elf wanted to repeat the portal magic trick and transfer the army to Paris through the Cathedral door again, the soldier wanted to take a crack elite unit of 800 or at least 300 sappers with explosives to blow a hole into the city walls of Paris.
The rest of the party talked the soldier down to 100, then 12, then 6, then 3 grenadiers, until he relented and the final forward party / special force would just be the Elf, the Dwarf, the soldier, the Thief, and the two charmed retainers Herta and Mortimer.
The priest and his propagandists and the orc would remain with Jeanne and the army, ready to move into Paris – once the portal would open.
A series of encounter rolls along the road made it easy to go, except for one spot: A roadblock, with d20+20 = 38 soldiers. The special force decided to avoid the roadblock by circling around it invisibly. The Elf cast invisibility over a 10 foot sphere twice to catch all the horses and riders. Alas, the spellweaving was spotted by three peasants.
At this point the adventure ended.
The forward team evaded the roadblock but was found by scouts and attacked by the Musketeers of the King. These elite warriors brought wands with the web spell to capture the Elven “Witch Knight” alive. One retainer got killed, the other five captured and brought to the Bastille. The Witch Knight was interred in his own, immobilised plate armor.
Resistance in Orléans tried to take out the Cleric and the fake Jeanne, but failed. Hard streetfighting followed, and the Cleric and Jeanne could not agree on tactics or on leadership. As violence dragged on he threw in the towel, gave two chests full of silver to his priests and sent them away from Orleans with those troops who valued faith over Jeanne. He himself loaded up Baka with black powder kegs and flew away.
With the Cardinal busy fighting Wallenstein and the Austrians in the South, the King made a decision: He ended the war against the Broceliande Forest for good [which means success for the campaign!] and diverted the troops involved into the mainland to end the struggle for Orléans and kill every last one of the occupiers. The orc died defending the city against superior forces, the fake “Jeanne” fled the burning city with a handful of dedicated followers.
The cleric went to check the situation in Bavaria and found it dire for the Catholic League, used black powder kegs against the Protestant side, then flew to Compiègne, where he had contacts – a priest and a monastery. After desertions, tactical splitups, and Molsheimers returning home to verify rumors of tragedy there, only 310 veterans out of the soldiers he had funnelled out of Orleans regrouped there, and he researched the dire predictions of the witch Little Frost, aided by the monks and their well-stocked library.
Of the captured:
In the deeper dungeons of the Bastille, the lovesick, nixie-beholden Thief got eaten by water and disappeared as if spirited away.
The Elf was kept in the deepest, dankest dungeons to make him give up his secrets and spells. Captured in an unmoving armor, he was dubbed among the wardens “The Man in the Iron Cask”.
The wounded Sniper and the Dwarf were held in the Bastille until a series of unfortunate events – witchcraft activities – made the French consider offering them their freedom if they were to agree to one important mission that would decide the fate of the Mother Church herself.
But that is another story altogether.
Notes on factions involved:
- The Living Wood / Broceliande: Lord Bruissement
- Princess An Na I Anand, Daughter to Lord Bruissement
- Verca Nen Rama, Lord Master of the Elven armies
- Queen Herbeverte, wife to Lord Bruissement
- Breg- o dál, captured and mutilated seed-carrier
- The Line (of the Waterways): Princess Flusswassermoos
- Dwarfstead at Ještědský hřbet; partially Hussite refugees
- Lord Isgrum of Greystone, a dwarf count in the Alps, Lord over the Greystone Dwarves west of the River Inn, beholden to Rohdahar II, the King Under the Mountain.
- Dwarves of Deep Village
- The Deep Gnomes or Svirfneblin, habitually shy and quiet, who prefer to let the dwarves talk for them
- Rognar Ratcatcher, Master Miner
- The Deep Dwarg: Heretic Deep Miners who do not embrace the Good Word of Jesus Christ our Lord, so they were banished and are suspected of doing foul magicks.
Europe Nations involved:
- Sweden (Orcs)
- Austria (Catholic Humans)
- France (Catholic Humans)
- Spain (Catholic Humans)
- Swiss Lands (Protestant Humans)
- Bavarians (Catholic Humans)
- Other German Lands, plus Bohemia and Moravia (various)
- Franche-Comté, Molsheim region, Savoy, Genoa, Mantua (Semi-independent countries wedged in between the great powers)
Secret Coven with a grand master plan of epic proportions.