Sunday, April 25, 2010

Thousand Year Sandglass - The Throne of Changes

The origins of this artifact are lost in the mists of time, as is often the case, but tales come to us from the scribes of the ancients as to this object's immense power. The following description might be added to one's own tale of adventure. The text in purple may be read aloud if you like.

... you find the floor of a long hallway is decorated with an undulating bronze bas relief of a great serpent, who winds into a huge chamber 30' by 70', and curves up into an arching sculpture. The serpent statue's wide, flat head shelters a low, simply carved stone throne at the far end of the room. Two rows of mighty bronze shod pillars range down the great hall at 10' intervals, flanking the throne and its sheltering serpent head. The walls appear to be made of much older, heavily pitted stone, which is worked but is so worn it almost appears natural. About 10' behind the arching back of the bronze serpent, a row of mummified scribes sit, their withered hands still clutching stylus and clay tablets.

On a secret door check of a 1-2 on a d6, characters will see that among them sits one who yet lives, as parched and withered as a mummy yet breathing. His piercing blue eyes survey all in the room under heavy lids. If addressed, he will speak in the tongue of the Ancients that he is the last of the scribes of the Room of Change, his sacred task to record the changes that those brave enough to sit in the throne may undergo. He will be glad to inform characters of the changes the throne may make upon them, owning that immortality was the gift that he himself gained from it, but not eternal youth.

If an adventurer sits in the throne, the eyes of the bronze serpent will flare, thunder will peal, and the occupant of the seat will be engulfed in a blinding flash of light. Roll a save vs. wands or undergo the following transformation:

Roll 1d8

1 Transforms into a writhing mass of snakes, slithering out of clothing and equipment en masse and attacking. There number of snakes is equal to the characters HP total divided by 4. Their clothing and gear can be retrieved from the throne. The character can be returned to normal if all the snakes are gathered alive and a remove curse is cast upon them.

2 Transforms into a serpent ogre, destroying clothing and armor in the process. Roll a save vs. spell to retain original mind and personality, otherwise go mad and attack former allies.

3 Transforms into a mummy, which will rise and attack. Character is dead without chance of resurrection. Gear is retrievable.

4 Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution are instantly and permanently raised to 18.

5 All damage is instantly healed, all limbs restored, and all curses lifted. A dead body seated on the throne may be restored to life if this result comes up.

6 Character is rendered immortal. They cannot die, but continue to age normally. If reduced to 0 hp, rendered immobile until they are healed above 0 once more. All limbs lost will regrow in time, but will reduce the immortal's charisma while they grow back. Even a severed head may be regrown, but the immortal will be blind and senseless while the head grows back.

7 Develops scaly, hairless skin, golden, slitted eyes, and a serpent like tongue. Charisma is reduced by half. Can speak the tongue of serpents.

8 Character's body turns to gold statue. Gear and clothing unaffected. May be cured by stone to flesh spell or remove curse. Weight of body is tripled.

Characters may only sit in the chair once. A dead body placed in the chair will be effected normally, and if the resulting transformation is a living thing(s), they will be effectively resurrected, although perhaps not in a form they might desire.

After the magic happens, the scribe will declare "The Change is Made" in the Ancient tongue, and scribble a note on a clay tablet before him.

Thousand Year Sandglass - Serpent Ogres

Number Encountered: 1d4
Alignment: Chaotic
Movement: 90 (30)
Armor Class: 5
Hit dice: 5
Attacks: Bite or by weapon, Constriction
Damage: 1d8 or weapon +4, 2d4
Save: F5
Morale: 8
Horde: VI

Lurking beneath the streets of the low quarters of many cities of Sanduk Ramul, the dark cult of Al Hayyat, the great serpent, flourishes in hidden places. Great is their wealth and subtle are their ways, and when the priests of the winding way seek to safeguard their troves of forbidden knowledge and ill gained treasures, they often turn to the fearsome serpent ogres.

These tireless monsters require little sleep or food, laying torpid but ever watchful, until unwary intruders enter their premises, where they then stir to relentless, deliberate life, slaying and devouring without compunction or malice.

It is whispered among sages that the terrible ritual for creating these creatures begins by allowing an enslaved ogre to be half devoured by a great python, before both are struck by a spell of transformation, becoming a chimerical beast with the head and coils of a great serpent and the arms and hands of a mighty thewed ogre, which towers well over the heads of even the tallest of men when reared up to their full height.

Serpent ogres may bite with their fanged maws, or strike with weapons given them by their masters. If a hapless foe is caught in their coils, they may constrict them from round to round, releasing them only when all life has been squeezed out of them. The gear and garments of those they slay are usually scattered about the monsters' lair, while the bodies are swallowed whole, to be slowly digested over several months. A victim of a serpent ogre my be recovered more or less intact within 1d4 months.

Due to their unnatural nature, a serpent ogre may be turned as if they were an undead of their level, but otherwise they are living creatures, albeit terrible ones, and may fall victim to sleep, charm, and paralysis as normal. They will instantly obey a cleric of the cult of Hayyat without question, although their minds are very dull and literal, and often the justice of other gods finds these evil priests when a serpent ogre interprets an order much too literally.

Friday, April 23, 2010

LL at Paul's: Two for One

Hokay. Whether you wanna blame Helgacon, being sick for two and a half weeks, or the siren song of Spring a-sprunging, it's been way too long since I've updated the ol' weekly Labyrinth Lord report. So this post'll be a twofer. It woulda been a threefer, but the week of Helgacon we cancelled from a combination of sickness and other folks having other stuff they had to do.

So when we last left our hearty band of miscreants, they were deep in the depths of Stonehell, having just battled a bunch of giant rats. Now, by this time, we were all pretty raggedy, so we set about figuring out what we could do to recuperate a little.

We decided to go back to the room with the prophetic bronze head and barricade ourselves in there for the night. Of course, sleeping in the dungeon has its risks, and it soon became apparent we weren't gonna get a good night sleep.

Round about second watch, we heard something scuttling around outside. Instead of ignoring it like we probably should have, the group got up and opened the door. Outside a bunch of giant centipedes were crawling along the walls, and one of them almost came into the room except that the Deacon and the henchmen, I think, slammed the door shut.

Presently, the scuttling continued down the hall, and we all settled in again. It wasn't long before we heard scratching at the door. Now, I'm not sure if we were in our right minds or what, but we set up around the door again and opened it. This time, it was giant rats, who sprang to the attack with a sharl and a hiss. My memory's a bit hazy, but I think we drove them back with sword and polearm thrusts, and got the door closed again.

By this time we were all getting kind of sleep deprived, I guess, 'cos eventually we heard more movement outside the door, accompanied by low jabbering voices and the sound of something being pounded into the door. Again, we got up, and again we threw open the door. This time it was a gang of kobolds, a couple of whom were furiously backpedaling with iron spikes and hammers in their scaly little mitts.

A group of them charged us, and got cut off from their fellows as we slammed the door again. A furious battle ensued, and while we managed to kill the little bastards, they got some vicious hits in on Grut the dwarf and the poor dope died before the Deacon could read from his Cure Light Wounds scroll or force a healing potion down his throat.

Reeling from this turn of events, we braced the door with the Deacon's staff. Elef the halfling, who spoke kolboldish, shouted thru the door, demanding to know what the little creeps wanted. They replied that they were gonna seal us in so we wouldn't kill anymore of 'em, and leave us to rot.

After a brief consultation we decided not to do anything about that, since it meant they'd go away and leave us in peace. Once the kobolds had finished driving in iron spikes, they scampered off, and we bedded down for the night and finally got some sleep (except for poor Grut, who was getting more sleep than any of us had bargained for. The big sleep, if you will.)

After we'd gotten our rest, we took out the late dwarf's crowbar and pried open the door. Elef tried to take the prophetic bronze head off of its pedestal to take with us, but got a solid zap of electricity and a stern admonition from the head for his troubles.

We carried Grut's body outside and settled up. We took whatever was useful, the Deacon said a few words and played a song on his silver stringed mandolin, and then we buried the body in proper dwarvish fashion. (Crushed under the largest boulder we could find.)

Since Elef knew the way to the nearest village, known as Broadberg, we decided to quit Stonehell for now and head back to civilization. (This decision was also predicated, a bit, on the fact that I'd forgotten to bring the map of Stonehell that we'd been keeping with me to this session. D'oh!)

We set out, going down the mountain around around the side of a second peak, until the tiny logging town of Broadberg came into sight.

There we hied ourselves to the local tavern, where we got to talking to the locals about how to get to the city of Bridgefair. We made the acquaintance of a lumber dealer by the name of Sam Fisher, a gruff older gentleman of few words. After a little wheeling and dealing, we agreed to escort one of his wagon trains down the road for a nominal fee (I think it was 5 silver per man, but might have been more. Paul's whole money conversion thing, ratcheting values up by one and eliminating platinum, has caused a little muddying of the waters, but overall I think it's a good thing.)

We also made the acquaintance of an exotic gentleman from parts far to the South, a dark haired, dark skinned man with a scimitar at his hip and a turban on his head, who introduced himself as Kasim of the Long Sands. He told us a tale of his time as a royal guard, and how his princess had been stolen by dark sorcery, and now he searched the world for her. Seeing as we seemed a bold band of adventurers, he decided to throw his lot in with us, and we were happy to have him, since we were down a couple of fighting men since losing Liam and Grut.

The next day we set out on the rough country road towards the city of Bridgefair, accompanied by three creaking, log laden wagons pulled by mules and driven by the irascible Mr. Fisher and a couple of hired hands.

As we made our way down the mountain trail into the plains, we eventually came up on a more heavily traveled road. It was there that we sighted a group of travellers on foot ahead of us. They were moving much faster than our mule train, so we figured we'd catch up to them when night began to fall and see if we might share a campsite. From a distance, they appeared to be several priests or holy men in brown, hooded robes, accompanied by guards.

As twilight deepened, we drew the mules to the side of the road, and Yøgund and the Deacon approached the travellers to see if we might join them. As we approached, the paladin did his Sense Evil thing, and became instantly alert and wary as it went off, detecting sinister intent as a couple of the hooded figures stood up from their campfire and walked over to meet us. The Deacon laid a hand on the crusading warrior's arm and bade him to play it cool.

We approached the clerical appearing figures, unable to see their faces in the gathering dusk and the shadows of their heavy cowls. The Deacon put on a smile and introduced himself and Yøgund, and asked if it were all right for us to camp near them. One of the hooded priests replied they would be happy to have us nearby. They seemed pretty enthusiastic, actually, although from the tone and timbre of the fellow's voice the Deacon could tell he wasn't a native speaker of the Common tongue, and might possibly not even be human. With a courteous smile and a nod, we turned around and headed back to the mule train.

Once there we filled the rest of the group in and drew up our plans. There were nine of them to seven of us, which were decent odds, plus we were pretty sure we had the element of surprise, in that we knew something was up and hopefully they didn't know we knew something was up. We weren't happy about that many potential clerics on team evil, but we'd see how that played out. We decided to park the wagons between our camp and theirs, set up a campfire, put the mules and civilians on the far side of it, and then pretend to bed down, whilst keeping our armor on and our weapons handy. Klint and Elef, being our stealthy types, volunteered to scout, either sneaking into one of the suspicious group's tents, or maybe catching one as he went into the nearby woods to make like a bear. (At this point, I'll note I'm glad I'm not a stealthy type character...)

So we set up and waited. Klint and Elef headed toward the enemy camp, with the halfling taking up a position on top of the logs on the center wagon while the thief crept toward the strangers' campfires. He stopped short in the shadow of the wagons, alert to several dark shapes creeping out of the tents and toward our campsite. Doubling back, Klint ran to the rest of the party and warned us. I think at that point we all just got up and took up defensive positions at the choke points between the three wagons, with Yøgund and Strang on the right and Melchoir, Kasim, and the Deacon on the left.

When they realized the jig was up, the strangers let out a gutteral cry and charged us, swinging their ash blackened blades and meeting us in battle. The Deacon managed to cast Hold Person on a group of them coming around the far left flank, but only caught one in magical immobility. Elef attempted to cast Charm Person, but his target shrugged off the magic.

Kasim turned out to be a whirlwind of destruction, striking the foes down with swirling slashes of his exotic pole arm. Meanwhile, things weren't going as well for Yøgund and Strang, and both were getting wounded and not making much headway. After swatting a couple knots with his staff, the Deacon rushed over to help them out, casting two Cure Light Wounds on Yøgund to bolster him up, as Strang fought valiantly, refusing offers of help. This proved his undoing, as he was cut down by a savage blow from one of the raiders. Our brave, tragically unlucky henchman bled out on the ground as the Deacon and Yøgund mopped the last of that flank, soon joined by Kasim and Melchoir as they'd polished off their attackers. (In this instance, the player of the late, lamented Liam was running Strang, and recommended I spend the healing on the paladin rather than on our henchman. It was a good thing, all told, 'cos Yøgund took a LOT of damage, but made it thru the fight on his feet. Still, it was a bummer. I kinda liked the hapless schnook.)

Finally, our group finished off the last of the threats, as the Deacon went over and bound the one who he'd cast Hold Person on. We'd defeated the mysterious raiders, but lost another member of our group in the process. It was here we ended the session.

Moving forward to the following week found us on the morning after our encounter. We examined the bodies of our assailants, and found that they indeed weren't fully human, but rather humanoids of evil cast with leathery brown skin and slitted eyes. Five of them wore robes, and four of them tabards bearing the device of a bridge over a river on a field of blue. Underneath, they wore solidly made boots and immaculately clean chainmail. The Deacon's instinct was that they were hobgoblins, but we couldn't be sure.

We tried to interrogate the prisoner, but found he didn't speak our language, or any of the limited number of other languages we knew. Without any better option, the Deacon clapped a hand on Yøgund's shoulder and asked him to Detect Evil. When he did, the wandering cleric nodded and told the holy warrior to "Do what you need to do." With that, Yøgund dispatched the prisoner.

From there, we took care of the dead as we felt they deserved. We claimed what was useful from Strang's equipment, and buried him with his trusty spear as a grave marker. The humanoids we looted and burned in a pyre, making sure to take their ears, in case of a bounty, and at least one of the cloaks and one of the tabards. I was a little suspicious of the whole setup, since it was my guess that the heraldry on the tabards was from Bridgefair. Either these guys had gotten hold of some tabards and were posing as servants of that town, or they were in cahoots, so we took what we figured would be the most flexible depending on how things stood.

With that out of the way, we set out again, travelling deeper into the plains along the Broadberg/Bridgefair road. When it came time to make camp, we ran into a trio of dwarves leading a mule toward the mountains, and seeing that they were non-evil, made camp with them and talked, mostly with their leader, Badger.

We told the dwarves about our recent adventures, and they were impressed to hear the name Stonehell, as they'd heard the legends. They weren't able to identify the creatures we'd fought by their ears, but they did ID the tabards as those of the Bridgefair town guard. They said that there had been merchant caravans and travellers waylaid and lost on this road, so the hypothesis that our attackers were bandits was bearing more weight. Otherwise, we spent a pleasant evening and moved on.

A few days later we pulled into Bridgefair, a bustling city on a river flowing South, that was about a week's travel to Restenford. We'd decided to talk to the town guard about the incident and the tabards, rather than try to be crafty about it. Yøgund needed to check in with representatives of his paladinic order, and we had some gemstones to sell, as well as all the stuff we looted off of the raiders to fence. We arranged our priorities, rented a wheelbarrow from a local and took our goods to market, since a bunch of armor and weapons were weighing us down.

We got a good price for the spoils of our fight, minus a small commission to Sam Fisher the lumberman for hauling the stuff on his wagons.He'd settled up on the price of our escort, so we had that money jingling in our pockets too.

From there, we went to the town guard garrison and looked up their Captain, a harried man at a desk by the name of Alfred Godsarrow. He was a bit snappish and impatient, but we filled him in, and showed him the tabard and the ears (which he was thoroughly grossed out by. So much for bounties.) He seemed kind of pissed that we burned the rest of the tabards, since apparently they were part of an order that had gone missing. The Deacon offered to recompense them for the cost, but was told that wasn't the issue. Anyway, he took our report, and bade us tell him when we were going to leave town. I think he was kind of suspicious of us. He did make it known that he was kind of down on the order of Palinthor, deeming them troublemakers and do gooders after Yøgund offered to lend a hand in any evil afoot in town.

Leaving the garrison, we headed back to the market to sell our gemstones, and eventually found our way to a small establishment run by a bunch of gnomes, who crowded around their dutch door as we showed them the gems and struck our bargain. We showed them the gems in three lots, the middling stuff, the good stuff, and finally the not so good stuff. I caught some flack from the rest of the group for not haggling, which in retrospect was probably justified, but all told we made out pretty darn good, about 450 gold pieces, which under the new monetary regime is equivalent to 4500 in un-Paulified Labyrinth Lord. (I'll also note that Paul's portrayal of a crowd of gnomish gem merchants was hi-larious! Great stuff. I wanna sell more jewels to these guys! I bet they have relatives all over the place.)

With a fat sack of cash burning a hole in our pockets, we proceeded to the Golden Goose, a tavern where the delegation from Yøgund's order was staying. Our noble friend presented himself to them and gave a report, and offered to accompany them when they set out for Restenford.

He also took their chancellor aside and spoke privately about his conflicted feelings about his required tithe. Normally, he'd give his money directly to the order, but he'd on his own set up the Palinthor house in Restenford, and wanted to know what they thought about that. The chancellor, not unsurprisingly, said he preferred the money going straight to the order, but they were happy he was out spreading the word and doing good. Yøgund turned over half of his cut of the haul, and thanked his superior for his advice.

Later, he was still kind of conflicted, since he felt he didn't want to give ALL of his money to the order without question. The Deacon advised him that Palinthor was the ultimate authority over him, not his order, and as long as he was right with the "upper management" if you will, then it was okay. He's a paladin, after all. If his powers get shut down, he knows he's doing the wrong thing, and conversely, if the order wants to bitch about it, he can show he's still got the big boss' favor.

After that we retired to an inn recommended by Sam Fisher, known as the Rusty Bucket, and spent a pleasant night there, taking advantage of the magical, self filling bathtub they kept there. (Everyone who played in the Treigue campaign in our old Thursday night game will remember the ol' Rusty Bucket with fondness, as it was a bar our characters bought and maintained. Ursula the barmaid's still there, by the way. She's not a half orc anymore as there are none in Paul's campaign, but she's still a whole lotta woman. (She doesn't just serve drinks, she's also a bouncer, especially if her bodice isn't laced as tightly...))

The next day we did some more shopping and info gathering. Klint the thief had always been interested in obtaining some kind of magics to help him see in the dark, and by asking around he found out about a sage, collector, and dealer in curios named Aldred who might be able to help.

So we went around to his house, and were invited inside by an unkempt, raggedy old man in a dressing gown who'd apparently just gotten up. The interior of the house was a rats nest of hoarded junk and papers, stacked almost to the ceiling. We settled in to a clearing in the rubble and talked.

He told us of a magical night cap that a wizard had created to aid him in his late night ramblings, that had fallen into possession of an adventurer who'd been lost in an expedition to an ancient Ilmorian ruin. The old sage offered to sell us a scrap of poetry that had led the hapless treasure hunter to the site. As we dickered, it came out that we knew where Stonehell was, which really peaked his interest. Eventually, we bargained for him to trade the poem and some item identifications for a map to the location of Stonehell. He also identified the ears we were carrying as probably goblinoid, which confirmed the Deacon's hobgoblin hypothesis.

The deal struck, we handed him the magic sword, the copper circlet from the subterranian pool, the gold ring I'd used to distract the ogre, and something else I can't quite recall right now, and parted ways, glad to get back out to fresh air.

The air wouldn't be fresh for long, though, 'cos next we went to the livestock district to buy some horses. We bought a bunch of war horses, a war pony for Elef, and some mules. (My destrier's name is Buttercup, btw, and Yøgund named his Equesthor.) We also hired a likely young lad named Garant Greyshield to travel with us and serve as groom and guardian for our mounts. Klint was dubious as to the value of buying expensive war horses when he figured they'd get eaten when we left them outside a dungeon. The increased movement rate is one big plus, we should get back to Restenford in half the time, and having a horse that's not gonna shy and run off when faced with monsters and combat in the field is another benefit. (Although being on the horse that stays rather than the one that gets the heck outta there might be a bug, not a feature.)

Anyway, we were soon set with mounts and ready to set out, the only thing holding us back was waiting for Aldred to ID the items, and waiting for the Palinthorian envoys to conclude their business with Prince Hank's army outside town. (Who was there as part of the war of succession that was going on in the wider world. We'd kinda stayed clear of it in neutral Restenford. How much longer it's gonna stay that way is up for grabs.)

Getting back to Aldred, we found out that the gold ring I'd been carrying was actually a Ring of Feather Fall. (I seem to have a knack for carrying magic items around unknowingly, although this is a lot better than that Armor of Arrow Attraction that my paladin character in the long ago Wardicon campaign was wearing. He was such a tank he just never noticed the extra hits.)

Klint expressed an interest in the thing, since he was the party member who did the most climbing. We agreed to give it to him, as long as he was willing to test it out. So we went to the Rusty Bucket and got him to climb up to the roof and jump off, attempting to drum up some spectacle and maybe some betting on the side. Alas, the Deacon didn't really draw the crowd, and Klint's oviously knocking knees detracted from the showmanship, even when we set out a flagon of water for him to dive into, a la the legendary Fearless Freep. The ring worked, and Klint claimed his prize and went to change his pants.

The sword, it turned out, was just a +1 sword, made of the mysterious metal Vadium. The ancient Ilmorians used it to make enchanted items, so there was potential to get the blade further magicked up, but for now it was still good to fight foes immune to normal weapons.

With that, we wrapped up. This was more business than action, but we got a few leads and made some more contacts in the wider world, so I call it good.

Thanks again, Paul, for good DM'ing and world building, and thanks to the 10d gamers for being a good bunch to play with.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

HELGACON - Tales of Helgacons Past

Okay, so I'm going to wrap up this week of Helgacon III coverage with some reminisces about the prior Helgacons.

Helgacon as an institution got its start from a weekend of gaming at my buddy Scott's parents' place up in New Hampshire. This was about a year or so into the regular Thursday night game that my gaming group was founded on. We drove up Friday, spent the weekend playing Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, and had a fantastic time.

So we wanted to recapture the magic. My primo amigo and current Labyrinth Lord Paul has always stepped up to organize events, from our annual trips to Gen Con to our regular, once a month Saturday game gatherings. He figured if we looked, we could find a vacation house down on the Cape someplace for relatively cheap in the off season, and we could all drive down and spend the weekend gaming. (And at this point, I'll repeat what everybody involved has often said, but should say even oftener. Thank you, Paul, from the bottom of my heart, for being such a dedicated cat herder and happen maker. You rock, and we wouldn't have half as much fun as we do without you shouldering the clerical duties.)

The first Helgacon was awesome, but was kind of disorganized. We held it in one of the attendee's parents' summer home down on the Cape, which was a really nice venue. We all brought a heap of games to run, and spent most of Friday night dickering about what would be played and who would be in what. By the time we were done, it was late and everybody was tired, so most folks turned in, except for a crew of die hards who joined in on the only game I would personally run that weekend, Science Patrol, GO!
This was a quick n' dirty homage to the old Ultraman T.V. show, played using the Savage Worlds rules. It was a hoot, and I'm probably going to bring it to Gen Con this year as a pickup game.

The rest of the weekends games were indeed awesome. I played in a D&D themed Toon game run by Emily (Where I played Albert the Owl Bear, a world weary French bear in an owl costume riding a unicycle, who really wished he could break into Mime), a pulp Savage Worlds game run by Paul where we were first introduced to those lovable scamps, the Davies brothers, and the piece de resistance, Delta's famous Tomb of Horrors session. There was also a fantasy themed Savage Worlds game on Sunday morning run by Paul.

Helgacon II found us in a new location, at this great little house in Yarmouth, where we've been ever since. We got more organized about pre-reg, so that when we got there we could just get going on gaming rather than spend all of Friday arguing who'd play what. I had two offerings that weekend, and both went swimmingly.

The first was a Mutants and Masterminds game.
This was a period piece set in the 1950's, pitting America's premier superteam, The Crusaders, against foreign agents and supervillains.

The second was L.I.B.R.A - Smoke and Mirrors.
This was a Savage Worlds game rooted in spy themed TV from the 60's, stuff like The Man from U.N.C.L.E and The Avengers. I had a cast of characters, and any that the players didn't pick were my enemy agents. I also randomly rolled the plot from a bunch of tables I'd created. Overall, it was a good session.
I also took part in a 4th. Edition game run by my buddy Joe, a return to the Tomb of Horrors run by Delta, and an OD&D game run by Delta that I think clinched a return to the old school for me and Paul, at the very least.

The lesson I learned from Helgacon II was no more proposing games then trying to create the material by the con. From here on out, if I don't have it 80% in the can, I won't throw it into the ring.

So there you have it, Helgacon past, present. Lookin' forward to the future with excitement. Helgacon IV! Better git crackin' on the stuff I'm gonna run.

HELGACON III - Acadamia Nuts

So my final game of Helgacon III was a game of Toon, run by the magnificent Emily.

Now, Toon games are kind of hard to describe, so instead I'm going to post a bunch of pictures that should give you, my readers, a sense of the experience.

And that, my dear friends, was how Professor Julius Winifred Quackenbush Throop (Professor of Spurious Errata) and Professor ManlyMike13 (Professor of Azeroth Studies) jointly won the MacGuffin Genius Grant, the Favor of the Administration (as opposed to the Flava Flav of the Administration), Internet Fame, and phat lootz. Yeaahhh boyeeeee!

Thanks, Emily, as usual, it was a hoot!

HELGACON III - The Game That Got Away

Okay, so now is the time in my travelogue of Helgacon III that I would be talking about the fourth game I took part in, but alas, it was not to be. The damnable cold or whatever it was had gotten the better of me, and forced me to miss the Saturday night session (ironic considering the blog, no?).

And it was a real drag, 'cos what I was missing was Delta running "Steading of the Hill Giant Chief" in AD&D.

I consoled myself a bit later in the evening by staggering down as they were cleaning up and getting a little chance to talk gaming with him before going back to bed.

So lemme talk a minute about my good friend Delta. (I'm still blushing a bit from the kind things he said on his blog here, and feel compelled to reciprocate a bit.)

I've been gaming with him for a decade now, although less frequently these past five years since he moved down to NYC for greater adventures in math and punk rock. His old crew here in Boston all miss him dearly, and oftentimes when game talk wends its way to old school play, we're reminded of the man who was old school before old school was cool.

Back when 3rd. Ed. was the new hotness and we were all converting our office round robin campaign to the new rules, he was happy to try it out, but often said that he'd prefer 1st. Ed or older. I've always considered him a scholar of the game, and as I get deeper into this old school thing, time after time I find myself coming around to viewpoints that Delta's been espousing all along.

As a DM, he's like that hard, uncompromising teacher who won't baby your dumb ass through the course he's set, and if you prevail it really means something. As a case in point, putting the Tomb of Horrors in Delta's capable hands is like putting a Stradivarius in the hands of master violinist, and has resulted in some of the best D&D play I've ever experienced. "Tough but fair" is the cliché, and I think it applies. All told, at the end of the day, that's how it SHOULD be played. You wanna self actualize, then write novels, otherwise, man up and roll the damn dice.

As a player, well, there are sometimes you just click with someone around the table, and Delta's one of those guys. He brings a lot of energy and charisma and a great sense of humor to the game, it's always a blast to play with and off of him.

He's played some pretty memorable characters through the years: Heregar the Cleric and his sidekick Windstick the half orc monk. (The first in many instances where we all noticed Delta's tendency to play two characters at once.) Valgus the loveable drunken warrior, the Dean Martin of Treigue. W.O.R.G. 1.4 and Thunderhead, of my superheroes campaigns. The infamous Red Wexler, about whom the less is said the better. The list goes on and on.

So what's my take on the whole no clerics/no thieves debate that him and Paul seem to constantly be having? Well, I agree with Delta that having to figure out gods and religions does sometimes bend the game world into shapes it doesn't need to be bent into, and a constantly prosetylizing party member is a pain in the posterior. (I'd like someday to play a cleric of a mystery cult. "No I'm not going to tell you about my diety, it's none of your damn business.")

I also agree with Paul that fiddly, arbitrary skill lists find their early seeds in the thief class, and skill lists are, I'm coming to realize, a drag.

That being said, I guess I'm enough of a traditionalist to feel like kicking thieves or clerics out of the "fab four" is tantamount to kicking George or Ringo out of the Beatles.

So when it comes down to clerics or thieves, I say "Yes!"

But anyway, the whole point of this post is to give a shout out to one of my homies, yo... One of the pillars of the core group, one of the original MacGoohen Brothers.

Here's to ya!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

HELGACON III - Valley of the Forgotten Kings

So this was the third event for me, and the second event I ran. My big wish would have been that I wasn't frikkin' sick, 'cos by this time I was really dragging. I was swilling Coke and trying to muster energy, but it was like it was draining out through my heels.

That said, I overall think it was a pretty good session. I just wish I had the energy to make it an AWESOME session. My players were Delta, Paul, Emily, Maggie, and Dave, and they all did pretty darn good. Delta and Paul played the brothers Jarib, and like brothers they had their moves down and were constantly feeding each other lines and jokes. Being old hands at the dungeon, it's not too surprising that they were the only characters who came through the whole thing intact. This is not to diminish the other players and their contributions. Heck, even dying in interesting ways adds to the fun, far as I'm concerned.

Overall, I was extremely gratified by how well the group overall was operating, 60% fatality rate aside. Everybody was figuring out puzzles and contributing to strategy and negotiations and such. One thing I'll say is that they managed to follow a very high yield path through the tombs, running into more useful than harmful encounters, especially when it came to gathering info about their surroundings.

As for stuff I'd improve, well, of course I'd have liked to have run this not half out of my gourd from exhaustion. There were points at which I let stuff drag on, like the initial party equipping, that I should have curtailed sooner, and stuff I kind of rushed through that I would have preferred to give more time in retrospect, like the effects of the Throne, for example. Wanting to end with a bang, I kind a shoved the party towards the throne room, for good or ill.

I felt a little like I gave Nabil's player the bum's rush in the fight with the scorpion, but I'll stand by it since circumstances were logical. (He stepped up into range to grab his familiar, and was exposed to the thing's attacks. I rolled randomly on who'd get stung and his unlucky number came up.) I probably should have stopped his replacement sha'ir from taking multiple seats in the Throne, but I guess it was fair enough for him playing multiple games of Russian roulette with the thing. I felt like Faridé's flash mummification at the very end was kind of a downer afterthought, since logically the character probably wouldn't want to park her keister in a throne full of angry snakes. But whatever, c'est la donjon...

Overall, the party worked thru about 30-45% of the Valley, which I set up as kind of a mini-sandbox type setting. I still love how much you can get done in a session of Labyrinth Lord, and again I found the system very easy to play and to write material for.

So that was my second foray behind the screen at this year's Helgacon. Thanks once again to my wonderful players for putting up with a seriously muddled DM. I hope you all had fun.

HELGACON III - Valley of the Forgotten Kings

As the sands shifted about in fitful clouds behind them, a brave party of adventurers found themselves standing at the entry to a box canyon that their hosts at the Saluk nomad camp had whispered to them about as they'd gathered about the sheyk's campfire the night before. A lost valley, where few of the superstitious men of the high desert dared tread, where the tombs of long dead rulers of a bygone era slept beneath the merciless gaze of the sun. The fabled Valley of Forgotten Kings.

The group numbered five, if one chose not to count the gen familiar of the portly sha'ir Nabil Abdel Shafi. At the fore were the two brothers, Jiri and Hakim Jirib, both doughty warriors and seasoned adventurers. Behind them, a furtive priest named Kash Kash, who claimed to serve the Lord of the Desert (although he merely smiled evasively if one asked if he meant Asmar, Desert Lord of the Alwan pantheon) and a golden furred kedai huntress named Faridé Fouad.

The valley stretched before them, high sandstone cliffs trailing down into gravel trailing down into a sinuous river of sand that poured in from the northern end of the canyon form the high deserts beyond. Several dark caves dotted the rock walls, but the two most striking features were a toppled obelisk at the far end of the valley, and a row of majestic statues of seated gods and monarchs carved from the eastern wall, each one with a stone door between their massive feet.

The adventurers decided to approach the row of statues, and as they came closer they gazed upon the visages of the long dead kings. From left to right, the figures were: A two headed god bearing the beaked heads of an eagle and a vulture, with a smaller figure enthroned on his lap, a bald headed scribe with a tightly bound beard, a stern faced warrior in a domed crown, and a pleasant faced nobleman in a flat crown. Liking the softly smiling visage of this last one, they decided to approach him first.

Examining the door, the group saw that it was carved with the images of fish, their open mouths pointed toward the sky. Closer study revealed that one of the mouths concealed a hole in the door. Hakim drew forth a ten foot pole from the luggage strapped to their camel, and thrust it down the opening, and was rewarded with a click, as the stone door receded into the ground before them. Unfortunately, he was unable to withdraw the pole in time, and found himself the owner of a six foot pole as it wedged in the recess and snapped off.

Inside, the group found a large tomb carved with papyrus reed designs on the walls. A towering statue of a stern faced mameluk stood before them, his grim features staring ahead in space. His flattened head touched the roof, and his feet were braced on the ground, as if he bore the polished bricks of the ceiling upon his pate. Beyond him, a stone boat lay, bearing a royal sarcophagus decorated with chipped blue paint, at the foot of which rested a stone box carved to resemble a fisherman's basket. Nearby, in the west wall, a round bronze door with a sunburst design was set in the wall. The party walked into the tomb, looking about in wonderment, and set about exploring.

As Nabil the sha'ir and Kash Kash the priest examined the doorway, finding inch wide holes in the face of the door between the verdegris striped rays of the sun, the others turned their attentions to the casket and box. The brothers Jirib each took a side and lifted the lid, and stood blinking in confusion at one another as the sound of grinding stone continued even as they paused. Looking around, they saw that the statue had turned to face them, pointing an accusing finger at them as they gazed up at its scowling visage. Dropping the lid, they turned to face the animated carving.
As the brothers' weapons flashed in the dim light, the doorway behind them rumbled shut, casting the room into dim twilight. While incredibly strong, the animated statue was crumbling, and the brothers' blades held enchantment. After a brief scuffle, they chopped the living pillar down, then cried out in dismay as a section of ceiling collapsed upon them.

After regaining their bearings and binding their wounds, they saw the glitter of gold among the broken masonry, and found that each fallen brick had contained a gold piece, cast in the likeness of the fallen statue. After gathering up this windfall, they turned their attention back to the box and sarcophagus. Removing the lids of both, they found a mummy wrapped in royal robes, a fishing rod and basket lying in the coffin with him. In the box, they found a profusion of silver pieces, each cast in the form of a tiny fish. The eyes of Faride the kedai glittered in particular at this latest find. They filled their packs with silver and gold and examined the doorways, both the exit to the desert canyon, and the mysterious disk shaped door to the west.

The door to the outside was quickly determined to be openable via a small mechanism attached to a bowl, presumably meant to hold a measure of liquid, but the snapped off end of the pole worked just as well. Taking this remnant of pole, Jiri thoughtfully walked up and inserted it into one of the holes in the face of the sun door, and there he discovered that the door could be rolled aside using the handle like a crank.

Beyond, there was a long hallway with a floor carved to resemble flowing waves on the surface of a river. Dull bronze serpents were set in the floor in the first thirty feet of the corridor. As the party advanced down the hallway, examining this new find, one of them carelessly stepped on one of the broad serpent heads. From down the darkened corridor, a hiss was heard, and a bronze spear shaped like an adder flew down the hallway, barely missing those who were in front. Examining the missile, they saw that the fangs of the sculpted serpent's head were encrusted with some fell substance. The Brothers Jarib looked at one another craftily, and the headstrong Hakim stepped on another trigger in the floor, launching a second serpent spear which he just barely avoided. The two warriors gloated that they had obtained two poisoned spears from this trap, but the rest of the group decided to be more careful and avoided launching any more projectiles down the hallway.

The corridor continued for 90 feet, then turned to the north past a stone lattice in the far wall carved to resemble crisscrossing snakes and papyrus reeds. An eerie blue glow filled the chamber before them, and they sent Faridé ahead to scout with her night accustomed eyes.

The kedai came upon a large chamber with a darkly rippling pool at the center, and her sharp, green eyes spotted a cluster of small snakes swimming across the surface in a tight grouping. The room was lit by bronze disks hanging from the ceiling, each shimmering with blue flames. A row of stone tables and couches lined the north wall, and she saw a length of red cloth and something gold sparkling on one of them. With a low whistle and a flick of her wrist, she summoned her comrades forward, and they fanned out into the room.

As they entered, the cluster of snakes bobbed up and down in the darkling waters, watching them warily. The group found that the cloth and shiny object were a rough, rust colored cloak and an ornate mask shaped like the beaked face of a vulture made of brass and copper. Hakim stepped down to the lip of the pool and thrust his spear into the water.

It was then that a shapely figure rose from the pool, her back turned toward the startled adventurers as serpents cascaded down her back, gazing at the party with glittering eyes. She covered herself modestly and spoke to them in a low voice. "Avert thine eyes if thou wouldst live." Being well bred, the adventurers turned their backs, as the creature rushed over to the stone couch and clothed herself in cloak and mask, then turned to address them.

For a long while, they spoke to her, and learned that she was once a high priestess in service of the Tetrarchs. She told them of the legendary Throne of Changes, which if sat upon would deliver boons or curses based upon the whims of the ancient gods. She herself, in an act of hubris, challenged the gods to bestow all that the Throne might give when she sat upon it, and had been transformed into the creature that stood before them. She'd been granted eternal life and health, but had also become a strange, reptilian being, and her gaze was doom. Since the day of her transformation, she did abide in the catacombs, as she was no longer a creature of the world above.

When asked, she told them there was great treasure buried in the Tetrarchs' catacombs, and also warned that there were many dangerous creatures in the tombs, but if they wished to go on exploring she would not stop them. Her only request was that they spare her the gazing crystal in one of the upper chambers that she used to observe the goings on of the wider world, which was her only source of amusement in the long eons. The party promised her that they would leave it be, and parted company with the creature, after she gave them a final warning not to provoke her acolytes.

The group headed east down a corridor, and found a wooden doorway that they forced open. Beyond they discovered the ancient priestess' acolytes, a pair of grim mummies who sat up on their pallets with burning coals in their black eyesockets. Faridé and Nabil were so paralysed with dread that the burly brothers Jarib and Kash Kash had to physically drag them past, and into a corridor heading north.

This passage led to a crossroads, with a set of stairs to the north and a sloping corridor to the southeast, which they followed until they came to a bronze door marked with a cats head gazing out from a square, which Faridé recognized as the symbol of her people's lost goddess, the Ohai.

Stepping inside, they found a shrine to the Ohai, a long chamber with a dried up pool littered with the skeletons of fish, with the mummified bodies of great cats propped against the walls. In the northern end of the hall, a large statue of a cat peered down through a square hole in the ceiling. The fur stood up on Faridé's shoulders, and she felt an odd pulsing behind her eyes. In a flash of inspiration, she knew that she had been temporarily granted the gift of prophecy. As her green eyes went crossed, she informed her comrades that any one question they put to her, regardless of subject, would be answered truthfully.

Hastily, the party conferred, and decided to ask here where the greatest wealth in the catacombs could be found. The female kedai responded with a series of slurred directions: "Go west, then south, then west, then north, then east."

As they committed the route to memory, Hakim discovered one of the cat mummies was fake, and by turning it's terra cotta masked head, a door opened in the northeast corner. The group decided to check this out before trying to follow their comrade's cryptic directions.

Beyond the hidden door they found a twenty foot hallway, with a door at the other end. A strange, phosphorescent glow issued from the crack at the base of the portal. Cautiously, the group advanced to the door and opened it.

A rough carved room about 20' by 20' lay beyond, with a low basin in the northeast corner beneath a shaft in the cieling, that shone with dim light from above. The walls were lined with some kind of faintly glowing, greenish white substance. As the party stepped into the room, they were ambushed by a gigantic scorpion, as big as two men, which dropped down from the shaft and sprang to the attack, clattering its huge, serrated claws.

The brothers Jarib leapt back and drew missile weapons, as Kash Kash began to chant and ululate, paying homage to his true desert lord, Akrab the Scorpion, whose cult was outlawed in most civilized lands. Nabil ordered his gen Ban Ban into the fray, and the tiny jinni complied with much protestations. The scorpion struck at the party with its claws and tail, as the brothers cast javelins and fired bows at it. Kash Kash swung his heavy flail in a daze, and was struck by the thing's tail, shrugging off its poison. Nabil began to feel remorse for endangering his tiny familiar as Ban Ban swung his tiny fists and bemoaned the thoughtlessness of his master. Chagrined, the sha'ir stepped forward to collect up his diminutive servant, but was caught in one of the monster's clasping claws, then stung in the heart. The rotund mystic's eyes bulged in his sockets, and he succumbed to the venom with a gasp.

Meanwhile, Jiri and Hakim tried to stab the thing with their newly acquired serpent spears, but found the beast resisted the venom, in spite of the fierce wounds they were bestowing upon it. Kash Kash struck the thing again with his flail, enraging it into stinging him again. This time, the poison boiled in the outlaw priest's blood, and slew him. He died as he had lived, stung repeatedly by scorpions. With a final bout of flashing blades, the others slew the beast, and fled the room.

From above, the din of the fight had attracted two wayfarers who by quirk of fate had been drawn to the lost valley by uncanny connection to the adventurers who had just fallen. Their calls down the well shaft stopped the three surviving party members just as they were rushing out the door. The trio looked up to see two men drifting down the shaft as if they were lighter than air, settling down in the basin next to the grisly corpse of the scorpion and the half dissolved bodies of their comrades. One newcomer let out a wail of recognition, and knelt by the body of Nabil, while the other nodded in grim satisfaction at the corpse of the dead scorpion priest Kash Kash. The portly little man introduced himself as Zafir Abdel Shafi, brother of Nabil, also a sha'ir, and who bore a remarkable resemblance to his deceased twin. The sha'ir's gen, Nab Nab, was a djinnling, who had provided the magical flight down the shaft. The other, a stern priest wearing the brown cloak of Asmar, Lord of the Deserts, introduced himself as Ajarabh Scorpion Killer, who hunted the outlaw priests of the Sanam on behalf of his patron.

The party welcomed the newcomers and divested their fallen comrades of any necessities. After honors were spoken, the dao of the earth pulled Nabil's lifeless body into the ground, and they left that place of death to the dead scorpion and its worshipper.

Resolving to follow Faridé's directions, they wended their way back to the chamber of the pool, informing the high priestess of what had occurred as they passed through. The directions led them around a corner to a dead end corridor, full of solid gold statues, some clad in mouldering clothing. The greater part of them were posed as if seated, with expectant looks on their faces. Others looked shocked and cowered in fear. Among these, the twisted bodies of tomb rats could be identified as well.

After determining that the statues were much too heavy to lift, the Jarib brothers started cutting the arm off one of the tomb rat statues. Once they had stowed this weight of gold in their packs, the group decided to explore further down the corridor to the west.

Eventually they came to a chamber lined with earthenware jars, each a set of four with different animal head stoppers. Inside, they found mummified organs floating in a pungent tincture of spices and chemicals. The floor of this room was littered with smashed jars, further evidence that somewhere tomb rats were afoot. An opening led north and further west, and they decided to explore to the north.

This led them around a twisting passage that ended in a dead end with a mirror topped by a scarab design with a carven eye set in its carapace. Zafir stepped up to the mirror to examine it, and was shocked as his reflection reached out of the mirror with an evil leer and clamped his hands around his throat. His djinnling familiar's reflection ran along his outstretched arms and began to fight furiously with its tiny duplicate.

After a furious battle in the cramped corridor, the evil duplicates were slain, and faded into the air like mirages. The party fled down the hall and headed further west.

This brought them to a crossroads. To the north, they saw an alcove with a royal sarcophagus interred, to the south, a long corridor lined with statues of priestesses. Every so often, one of the carvings held a bronze bowl in her cupped hands, and as the party stared, the bowls each lit with eerie blue flames one after the other heading away form them. They could hear the faint whispering and chanting of female voices just at the edge of hearing in the still, cool air.

After checking the sarcophagus and finding it and its contents unremarkable, they headed south, to the end of the whispering hall, where they found a large stone door standing with a pivot in the center, with bas relief of an eagle and a vulture on its face. After examining it for a while and trying to press on the statues, Ajarabh suggested that Faridé touch it, seeing as she was the only female in the group and the decorations in the hall indicated an order of priestesses. Sure enough, the door opened onto the hot, sandy air of the dust choked valley beyond. They were at the door between the feet of the god statue.

From there, they doubled back and headed down the west passage back at the crossroads, following it until they came upon an embalming workshop, with four slabs containing inert skeletons, and a fresco on the walls depicting several goddesses with zoomorphic heads conferring over a mummy. They also found a set of stairs leading upward from the northwest corner, and they followed them.

At the top of the staircase, they found a door made from the lid of a sarcophagus, with a white female face with dark rimmed eyes rendered in chipped paint on the shallow bas relief carving. Finding it sealed tight, the group chopped through the coffin lid with their blades, revealing a room stacked with sarcophagi beyond. Some had been broken open, while a row of them lay propped up against the north wall. There were old dry bloodstains on the floor, crisscrossed with the clawed tracks of tomb rats. Tucked behind one of the standing sarcophagi, they found a tomb rat's shriveled head, neatly severed from it's body, which was nowhere to be seen.

As they searched the coffins, three of them creaked open, disgorging a trio of terrifying ghuls: blackened, shriveled creatures armed with deadly sharp swords and spiked shields, their silently grinning, fanged hyena skulls gazing at the recoiling adventurers with empty sockets. Ajarabh invoked his diety and sent two of them retreating into their sarcophagi, while the third stepped up to the attack without a sound.

After a brief exchange of flashing blades, the misshapen creature fell to the ground, and the party busied themselves exploring the room. They discovered one of the sarcophagi contained a clay jar full of copper pieces, stoppered with a plug of valuable lapis lazuli. It was too soon to rejoice, however, as the ghul they thought slain picked up its sword and rose once more to the attack. With horrified eyes, the group saw that the wounds they had given it were drawing closed and vanishing. In the ensuing fight, Ajarabh was wounded, but managed to keep his feet. Finally, Jiri dealt the thing a mighty blow, cleanly severing it's skull from the body, and the thing crumbled to foul shreds of black and bone fragments.

Following a doorway beyond the stack of broken sarcophagi, the party followed a winding hallway that eventually took them to the crossroads at the base of the stairs that they'd initially seen when passing the acolytes' chamber. Deciding to follow it, they came upon a corridor heading east and west the floor of which was decorated with a gigantic bronze serpent's coils. This led into a vast hall where the flat inlay rose into a huge bronze cobra's head arched over a low, stone and bronze throne. Here was doubtless the mysterious Throne of Changes that the transformed High Priestess had referred to.

Inspired by the mystic aura of the chamber, the priest Ajarabh stepped forward and sat in the throne. In a flash of light and a peal of thunder, he stood once more, marvelling that all of his wounds had healed.

Emboldened, Zafir the sha'ir sat down. In a flash and boom, he looked down in horror to find that his skin had become hairless and scaly, with golden slitted eyes and a forked tongue. On his shoulder, his djinnling familiar had transformed into a serpent. Seeking foolishly to undo his transformation, he rose and sat down again. In a second flash, all of his wounds had been healed. Tempting fate once more, he rose and sat again. With a final crash of thunder, his robes and packs collapsed, as his body transformed into a writhing mass of angry snakes that spread out across the room.

As confusion broke out among the alarmed survivors, Faridé's feline curiosity overcame her, and she climbed the dias and sat on the throne as the priest and the two warriors backed away from the snakes that suddenly infested the room. In a flash and boom of thunder, the hapless kedai was transformed into an undead mummy, her golden coat sloughing away over blackened skin as she rose with flames of ghoulish light in her eyes.

Overwhelmed by the horror of these terrible transformations, the survivors of the party fled the room and quit the tombs, much wealthier and wiser. It is here that the tale ends, and passes into tales for another night's telling.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

HELGACON III - Book of War Round Robin

So, continuing my most lamentable belaborment of Helgacon III, the next event I had the pleasure of taking part in was Delta's "Book of War" game. He's blogged about it here, and should be regarded as the authoritative account on the event.

My own capsule version of events: this was a tabletop battle game created by Delta to scale seamlessly with Original Whitebox D&D, so that large scale battles could be fought without having to bend an OD&D campaign too far out of shape. Units were bought on point value, and each mini represented 10 guys of a variety of force types.

The event was run in tournament style, with stepped brackets, which worked really well for Saturday morning, since I was still dragging from this dang cold or whatever, and everybody else had stayed up 'til 4:00 AM or somesuch. Only Allister and I were available to start, as other participants were still asleep, so we fought for the first bracket.

Terrain was determined with dice rolls, and we took turns placing. Here's what we came up with.
For my army, I picked a bunch of pike men, a unit of longbowmen, a unit of medium infantry, a unit of light infantry, two guys worth of medium cavalry, and a pair of horse mounted archers (who are represented by the yellow fellows down at the bottom). Allister picked heavy cav, longbows, massed pikers, and heavy infantry
My general strategy was shielding my archery unit with a row of pikers, with my two infantry units ready to help them out. I put my light infantry in the woods since they were the most mobile and able to overcome the woods' penalties to movement. The real stars of my show, however, were my horse archers. They galloped around the field peppering the enemy units with unanswerable bow fire. The main body of Allister's force got snagged on my pike row and caught in a crossfire, and in the end it was a rout. I'd made it to the finals.
The next game was a competition between Max and Jon for the fourth initial slot, since the two sleepyheads had by now gotten up. (College kids...) The winner would take on John for the other seat in the finals. Meanwhile, I crashed on the couch and rested to draw up my strength for the finals and for my afternoon Labyrinth Lord game. Apparently, their terrain rolls yeilded a lot of rocky terrain, like they were fighting in the Alps.
Jon emerged the winner, a first victory for the cavalry commander who'd come to be known as the Iron Duke. His next game was with John, on much soggier ground.
Once again, the Iron Duke won the day, persevering through the battle with an uncanny knack for surviving.

Then it came down to the finals. It was the Iron Duke, vs. The Khan, as I decided to name the leader of my forces since mounted archery played such a role in my victory.

We were given double points to stat up an army, so I bulked up all my forces, and added a unit of heavy crossbows to the mix.
Terrain rolls had given us a very interesting feature, a river, which I decided to use to make a difficult to assail enclave on my end of the table.
I set up my pikes and archery in the enclave, and started my horse archers running along the bank of the river, as Jon advanced the Iron Duke and his heavies toward me. He took the daring option of fording the river into my pikemen after my horse archers had shot past and snagged on the hills at the end of the river, trying to avoid getting tangled with his heavy infantry. My medium cavalry fell in behind to harry the Duke's rear guard, but the irascible bastard survived. Eventually, the Duke smashed my pikers and set my crossbowmen and longbows running, while my horse archers polished off his archery units. Eventually, the Khan's horse archers got turned around, and all my surviving ranged units tried to catch the Iron Duke in a crossfire.
But STILL the bastard refused to go down. He routed the rest of my shooters, while I desperately tried to pepper him with bow fire from across the river.
Eventually, the Duke finished stomping a mudhole in my crossbowmen and crossed the river after my horse archers. From there it became a desperate chase.
I tried to put distance between us and wheel around, but he kept surviving and catching up, whittling down the Khan's riders until there were just 20. Finally, running out of strength (both literally and figuratively.) the Khan turned at bay against his foe.
And was cut down by the Iron Duke. Jon had won the tournament, and the wily Khan was defeated, shaking his tiny virtual fist at the heavens and bellowing in rage.

So anyway, this was a hoot. The game was fun and easy to learn, the tactics were engaging, and the timing and the interval of play suited my physical and mental state at the time. I find it interesting that the initial innings of this year's Helgacon saw an uptick in tabletop strategy games, which I think is cool. I think horse archers were a pretty formidable tool, as the Mongols proved long ago when they swept across Eastern Europe and West Asia. I had some trouble overshooting with my guys, but by and large the mobility really paid off for dealing damage.

Thanks for a great session, Delta. I'd play this again, maybe see how you mix fantasy elements in.