Reins of Darkness

Session 4 & 5: GM's notes
Not an actual log, just some reminders...hopefully someone else will post a proper account

Session 4:

Party is called by Anansi to look into some “bandits” that have waylaid shipments of food coming from the dwarves of Augdoom that had to pass through the Quivering Forest.

Hornvoid recalled stories telling that the QF was the sight of a great battle in the last war, where the elves turned on the other races and sold them out to the DL.

Nash (Peter’s elf) verified the betrayal story, adding that the elven lord Malphas supposedly perpetrated the action that led to the slaughter of thousands.

They round up Arithon and decide to disguise themselves as a small caravan, baiting the bandits to attack them. To that end, they recruit Zolonsho, a halfling, a cart, and a team of earth ponies to pull it.

They pass through the no-man’s land outside the enclave.

As they approach the forest, Zolonsho explains how the tend to move, creating and obliterating paths willy-nilly, and that its best to just “trust the trees” (and also to not piss the trees off).

They see lots of ravens on their way into the forest, as well as several recently-dead orcs impaled by trees.

Shortly inside the woods, they get their wish. Arrows come flying at them. Nash lights up a tree, revealing elves which immediately turn into ravens and attempt to fly away. Hornvoid knocks them out of the sky with a wind gust. Arithon stabs one and pins it to the ground. The others escape. Nash heals up the captured elf and makes friends with him by rocking some Truespeech (noticing the ravens speaking it back to him, faint girly laughter from the tree,s and glowing green eyes in the folliage while doing so). The elf tries to hug Arithon, but gets rebuffed.

The elf leads them to “the temple” where they can presumably get some answers.

Halfway there, they stop and hide as a procession of Astirax-Mastodons, Legates, and Ibixians pass, hauling several tons of silver ore.

They reach the “temple”, an old well-head. Another elf gives them a rope-ladder to get down and tries to kiss Arithon, and gets rebuffed.

Their guide tells them that the elves did in fact killed the dwarves and steal the shipments—after all, dwarves can see in the dark, so they must be servants of the DL.

Their elf guide leads them down into the dried-out aquifer, where they find a thriving elven village. He leads them to a side-passage heading downward where he indicates they will meet Malphas. At the end, about a mile down, they find a ceramic plug blocking the passage, carved with ravens with a pole protruding from the center.

Ravens come pouring out of the seal—Malphas. Malphas tells the party things…

  • The elves did not actively betray the other races, they just turned coward and ran.
  • The younger elves tend to take the more common interpretation and consider Malphas to be a traitor and pariah (but still use him as a source of information).
  • Malphas claims to be the only “great being” to not side with the DL (choosing to hide in this refuge instead).
  • That which trusts completely must never itself be trusted.
  • The DLs minions are building a giant pyramidal uber-mirror on a resevoir directly above their heads. Presumably as a means of finding and turning Malphas.
  • The trees are not allies of the elves, but leave them alone thanks to the herald.
  • Malphas and “the herald” (Laraje) are not on speaking terms…mostly because he was a coward and left her at the altar.
  • Malphas is “as old as the first bird to fly over the earth”.

The party decides to go look at the Pyramid. Malphas gives them a ring and tells them that, if they meet the herald, they should tell her that “Hedgreg sends his undying love.” (awwwwww)

The party heads topside. On the way their guide gives them some traditional green, pointy-shoed elf-garb, and they meet up with Alpha, who was following them and got himself captured by the elves.

They head out and go off to check out the pyramid. They find a huge smelting operation on the shores of the lake, creating silver sheet-plating to go over the huge pyramid which is floating on the lake’s surface. Seeing several hundred orcs and ibixians, they hide.

Alpha decides to cast a spell…and gets the attention of the 12+ Astirax-possessed mastodons that are standing nearby.

They run some more. Arithon acts preturnaturally fast, hears a golf-clap from the woods, and spots a narrow path opening up beside him, with a pair of attractive elven ankles running away. They follow. Mastodons follow. They escape…

And fall panting into a briery clearing. They find a broken arrow on the ground and Alpha tries to summon Laraje. She appears, refuses the ring from Malphas, and explains that Malphas is a coward through and through and that the best way to destroy the pyramid would be to break his seal, flood the temple under the well, and let all the elves drown. She also intimates that Malphas showed an unnatural level of trust in telling the party the name Hedgreg, which she implies might be his truename.

Arithon convinces the party that the best course of action might be to warn Malphas and the elves, convince them to redeem themselves by joining the fight against the DL, then bust the seal and bring the pyramid crashing down…


Session 5:

Ulfen heads into the woods and tracks the party…the whole way…through the woods, to the well, to the orc smelters, then running to their hideout. At the well he pings Laraje’s interest and manages to not become a pin cussion.

He finds the party and they make plans to piss of the orcs and get them to chase him to the elf clearing…

Ulfen fires a well-placed shot at the pegasus legate leading the smelting operation, just as Nash speaks a word to arrest her motion. The pegasus falls from the sky…into the middle of the consulting group of legates. Ulfen then shouts several insults at them and waves his magic bow at the Astiraxes…causing the whole horde, 15 Astirax-possessed Mastodons, 60 Goat-men, 15 legates, a whole mess of orcs, and the pegasus to go screaming after him. He runs…and runs…easily outpacing the orcs, goatmen, and human legates thanks to his boosted endurance (thanks to some gnaw-roots and tasty tube-worms)…easily outpacing the mastodons thanks to the trees…and quickly being overtaking by the enraged pegasus. He uses his magic bow to take out one and then the other of her wings while still running at full speed, firing blindly behind him. Grounded and slowed, the pegasus nails him with a ray of enfeeblement. He then activates his armor of haste and burns out of there, staying just in sight of the pursuers to egg them on.

He tears into the clearing with the well to find Laraje waiting for him, smiling, and the hordes of darkness right on his heels. As Ulfen collapses from exhaustion, the air fills with raining elven arrows and diving crows and the pursuing hordes, their leader already near-death herself from Ulfen’s poisoned arrows, die en masse before the onslaught.

Meanwhile Nash and Arithon charge toward the lake from another direction. After the hordes chased after Ulfen, only 15 chain-gangs of ponies (10 each) and their orc minders (10 each) were left. Yeah, only 150 orcs. Arithon downed to orcs with his crossbow as he charged in, adding to the existing confusion, and shouting at the ponies to run (even slapping some on the back-side). Nash hooked one of the pony-gang’s chains to one of the smelters and had them pull the giant vat of molten metal off its berth, creating a river of liquid silver behind the fleeing ponies…and leaving him stranded, standing on a pile of ore in the middle of the molten lake, the sand of the lakeshore quickly vitrifying around him. The orcs ran or were burned. Just barely leaping across the molten river, Nash used his word-magic to make the other smelter friction-less, easily shoving it over onto the remaining orcs.

Meanwhile the ponies fled into the woods, hauling the vat behind them and setting the trees ablaze. Arithon ran along with them and succeeded in slicing through the chain holding the ponies to the flaming death machine, allowing them to run to freedom. Circling around the line of flaming trees, Arithon grabbed Nash and dimension doored to the Pyramid.

They ran inside the pyramid and found a depression in the center which teleported them to a small room with a silver platform.
They killed some shadowy guards and then used the platform to teleport…a lot…back and forth…finding several rooms with stores of food, weapons, and magic items.
Finally navigating back to the room with the silver platform, they headed out through the door to find a temple with a black obelisk protruding from the peak of the pyramid, and tapestries depicting each of the ancient gods in their debased state, except Malphas. They raided the pegasus high-legate’s private chambers, stole her bedding and smashed her mirrors.

Then they headed downstairs. Got trapped in a maze of teleporters for a bit. Met an old elf who healed them and claimed to have been stuck in the pyramid for 90,000 meals (however long that is). Grabbing the old elf, they backtracked to the top and escaped through the hole in the roof in the temple. They rappeled down the side of the pyramid, used some new-found acquitic armor to swim down under the lake (only to see that there was another pyramid inverted beneath it), and proceeded to knock holes in the giant, floating, double pyramid, sinking the whole structure.

HUZZAH! Everyone leveled.

To be continued…


Loot:

  • Elven Cloaks (+5 Stealth) for everyone
  • Elven Boots (+5 Acrobatics) for everyone
  • Elven Tunics (Endure Elements) for everyone
  • Quiver w/ 60 Elven arrows
  • Poison Stone (10 doses bloodroot poison)
  • Hedreg’s Promise (Ring, +2 on Cha-based checks vs. opposite gender and charm person 1/day…you suspect it may have other unknown properties)
  • Hastsezini’s Shield +4 (wielder cannot be Flanked)
  • Bracers of Defenselessness (Cursed! wearer has AC of 10, no other bonuses or modifiers apply)
  • Cursed Scroll of Cowardice (Nash must make a Will save, normal DC, every time he encounters an enemy or flee in panic)
  • Aquatic Half-Plate Armor (gains +1 enhancement bonus when underwater, and grants freedom of movement when underwater)
  • Merty’s Miraculous Mistmaker (when the stopper of this vial is removed, it creates a 30-ft. radius cloud as an obscuring mist spell, for 3d6 rounds. To recharge, simply refill with water)
  • Odin’s Dagger +3 (+5 vs. Dragons, 3x damage vs. Red Dragons, and immunity to Fire)
  • Oil of Controlling (acts as a charm person spell when applied to a victim. may be thrown in combat)
  • Bracers of the Mermen (grants ability to breathe water and a swim speed of 60 feet)
  • Wand of Ochalor’s Eye (Has 91 charges – using 1 charge creates a 30-ft. cone of fear, 6HD or less do not get a save, others get a Will save DC 18, those that fail are paralyzed as long as they can see the wand, once they cannot see the wand they run screaming for 5 rounds)
    • Anyone previously affected by the wand is compelled to attempt to Sunder it when they next encounter the wand (regardless of who wields it).
  • Black silk bed linens (silky smooth, but non-magical
  • 1200vp worth of military rations
  • 2 Crafted Vardatches
  • Wargird’s Barding (+1 breastplate made for a pony, can be slept in without fatigue, grants +2 on Endurance checks…you suspect it may have additional unknwon properties)
  • +2 Frost Horseshoes
  • 15 suits of Full Plate Armor, Halbers, Elephant Goads, and Curved Sacrificial Daggers (from legates)
  • LOTS of vardatches and greataxes (from orcs and ibixians)
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Session 3: Kseen's Second Report
Legate? Is that like a big spider?

Author’s Note: Sorry for the change in tone from the last one, I remembered that Kseen is illiterate and that these reports must be given in person…

Master Anansi, where was I—Oh yes. The legate in the dwarven treasure vault.

The legate and her—yes, on closer inspection it was a she—orcish servants fled out the back of the room and we gave chase. Knocking down a few statues and bashing a few holes in the walls, we managed to navigate our way across the room, stopping to reclaim the hammer—which we learned from our dwarven friends was named “Augdoom”, a relic of their god Aym, and namesake of their city. Beyond we found a room with five exits, and, rather than a horde of fleeing orcs, an in-rushing troop of dwarves, accompanied by our friend Ulfen.

Alpha and Erethon (Arithon, Erethon, whatever, I can’t spell) went back with the dwarves to salvage what they could of the treasure chamber before it was consumed by lava, while Horn-void, Ulfen, and I attempted to track where the orcs had fled to. Ulfen mentioned seeing something amiss near the cook-fires on his way in, and, searching there, we found a set of stairs leading to a higher-level of the city, slick with orc blood.

Up the stairs we found a pair of orcs, their throats ritually slashed and bled. Rushing past them we burst into an abandoned warehouse, piled high with bales of some fibrous stuff which Horn-void said was “riftwool”—apparently woven from the hairs of some giant insect. It tasted somewhat like coconut, if a bit rough on the tongue. I stuffed some of the riftwool in my bags for future examination—perhaps a pie crust…

…and rushed on. Down a long corridor and out onto a landing where we came to a long bridge, or rather a catwalk, across the rift, with a gondola for transporting mine carts suspended below it. Horn-void heard some sobbing and we found a pair of dwarven children hiding beneath the start of the bridge. The children told us of a great horde of orcs that had just come running by, apparently heading for their father’s bakery. Yes! A Bakery! Did you know that dwarves bake?!

I had heard enough and charged across the bridge, which was surprisingly sturdy, trying not to look at the precipitous two-hundred foot drop into a pit of molten rock on either side. At the end of the bridge we came to a long tunnel with obvious orcish boot-prints leading into it. Rushing along, the tunnel opened into a bustling dwarven marketplace.

[Bill interjects] “We were there…There were many steps and columns. It was most tranquil.”
[Kseen turns to slap Bill and Ted, then continues]

Seeing no signs of the orcs, we back-tracked a bit and found another set of stairs leading up into the bakery. The smell of bread was delicious, and did a good job of masking the smell of the dwarf blood which covered these steps, which I promptly slipped on.

Bursting heroically into the bakery, we found the bodies of the dwarven bakers stuffed into their own ovens. We helped ourselves to their belongings—vials of delicious, delicious Allspice and flasks of Absinthe—and began searching for the orcs. Hornvoid spotted the creatures through a grate in the floor, a half-level below us, exhausted from running and barricading themselves in so that they might rest. Looking around at the industrial baking supplies, I began wondering how many orcs I could fit in a single pie…

As Hornvoid and I pondered how to cook fourty-odd orcs, Ulfen spotted some Orcish Fell making their way across the bridge and began trying to pick them off with his bow. Combining our my knowledge of Cooking with Hornvoid’s skill at engineering, we constructed a massive flour-blower from a giant sifter and a bellows, which we used to spray flour into the chamber in which the orcs had locked themselves. We heard a shout of triumph from behind and turned to see Ulfen celebrating a masterful shot at one of the zombies…

A truly impressive shot indeed! We saw the arrow sail over the zombie’s heads, strike the far wall of the chasm, and cause a tremendous explosion, bringing an entire section of the dwarven city collapsing down into the chasm. The orc zombies, the bridge, and several blocks of the dwarven city were destroyed in mere moments. I could only smile thinking of the conflagration to follow…and of pie. I had, you see, laced the flour with Absinthe, which, strangely, tends to enhance all damaging effects on those under its influence.

Sadly the collapse of the city woke the orcs from their slumber before we were quite finished dispersing the flour. Great billowing clouds of blackness came up from the orc chamber, followed by the orcs themselves. Ulfen held the orcs off as another explosion rocked the area just beneath our feat. Hurting me quite badly, but finishing the dispersal of the flour.

Hornvoid and Ulfen ran, thinking me dead, and hid inside the great ovens. Ulfen pulled the doors shut behind them just as Hornvoid ignited the flour. The heat was unbelievable! The flames were so intense that the orcs didn’t even have time to scream. When the fireball dissipated, I found myself, amazingly, still breathing, lying on the floor, holding the hammer Augdoom aloft above me. The smell of char-broiled, breaded orc made my mouth water.

Hornvoid and Ulfen came out, ready to leave immediately, but I insisted that we sift through the rubble—rubble because the entire roof of the bakery had collapsed—for the body of the legate. We found her, or what was left of her, along with several of her possessions. Let me say, female svartalf, breaded, blackened, with a hint of absinthe and spark is the most delicious dish I have ever prepared. Sadly, I did not bring any to share, friend Anansi, so you’ll have to take my word, expert opinion that it is, on it. Oh, and her name was Arda…

So, after claiming the bounty on some orc heads and returning Augdoom to the Stalmer dwarves, we have returned here to report to you. I have many delicious new dishes to offer our troops, as well as this scroll-case, taken from the treasure vaults of the dwarven queen, which I can only hope has some piece of information that you may find useful. We should, however, at some point, return to help the dwarves rebuild…and perhaps smash that horribly shiny floor for them.

Now it is off to the kitchens for me and, I hope, a long rest for my friends.


Loot:

  • Flask of Allspice (grants +1 Strength for 24 hours) — claimed by Kseen
  • Amulet of Protection (+1 to AC and saves) — claimed by Hornvoid
  • +2 Scimitar of Locate Objects (casts locate object 1/day)
  • Potion of Luck (may choose the result, rather than rolling, of any one d20 roll within 1 hour after drinking)
  • 1 Multiplanar Mushroom (one-way trip to the Ethereal Plane…whatever that is) — Claimed by Kseen (for making an awesome stir-fry)
  • Robin Goodfellow’s Wand (83 charges, polymorph target, but only partially-can choose 1 body part to polymorph into that of another creature)
  • Lao Tzu’s Staff (1/day, permanently paralyze a struck target, can only be removed by a wish, will DC 20 negates) — Claimed by Hornvoid
  • 1560gp (Ulfen, Horn-Void, and Kseen are carrying 520 each, contact them if you need to buy something).
  • Barrel of Tubeworms
  • 50-lb bag of dwarven flour
  • Bale of Riftwool

Rewards:

  • Level 3
  • Access to the Steelblooded heroic path
  • Kseen is very hard to burn now…
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Session 2: Kseen's First Report
A report to the Council of Stewards by High Quartermaster Fa-Kseen

To Anansi, Seneschal of the Council,
From Fa-Kseen, High Quartermaster of the Council,
Concerning the dwarven enclave beneath our great city of Xa-Charad.

To date, my quest has proven more fruitful than I might have believed. While nothing we plant may sprout in this dark land, I have found much that is edible, much of which seems to grow readily and is easily harvested. Including one of the most remarkably delightful of culinary reactions that I have ever witnessed.

Let me back up a bit. This day I left our fair city disguised, traveling in the company of three of the caretaken: Alpha and Erethon, two humans who served us well in the taking of Thorn Island, and Horn Void, a self-proclaimed “Dildicorn” (for the prosthesis which the poor pony used to replace his amputated horn). We descended the stairs beneath the great council-chamber into the library which was recently excavated, and thence to the dwarven caverns.

First, let me say, the centuries-old ashes of the texts from ancient library make the most remarkable spice. They may be a bit dry, but sing on the tip of the tongue, the taste being only describable as an embodiment of torrid desire. I was able to collect a sizable sample, and there is much to be harvested. The sea-stew which we have to date been limited to being rather bland, I think this will be a great resource, and it has shown other more remarkable properties which I shall detail later on.

In the guise of a dwarf and in the company of these brave folk, I descended into the hot, magma-lit dwarven mines. I was pleased to find that my elf-crafted apron stood up well against the extreme temperatures of the down-below; the pointy-eared caretaken have their uses.

We met first with the “Stalmers”, the short-folk in charge, and feasted with them before going on to meet their queen. The tube-worms which the dwarves feed on, “crusties” they call them, are remarkable. Smelling of sulfer, oily in texture, but with a rich, buttery flavor, they were exceptionally filling and made us all feel much fortified. Alpha and I both took substantial samples of the odd meat to supplement our provisions of seaweed and plankton.

The feast done, we went before the queen. A fine lady, very refined, and well-guarded. She lay amidst great mounds of wealth. We laid before her our gifts—200 pieces of hacksilver, my own silver whistle, and an adamantine couter provided by Erethon (which somehow ended up back in his possession later, a trick for which I dare not ask the means). The queen ensured her close friendship with the Stewards and laid the services of her guard, 150 strong, at the Council’s beck and call. I somewhat question her motives, for the floor of her royal chamber was laid of obsidian and polished to such a sheen that I was sure the Dark Lord watched over all the proceedings. I did my best to occlude the negotiations, pouring flour out onto the floor and prevaricating to the best of my abilities. Either the dwarves are unaware of the Dark Lord’s power, which I strongly doubt given how common the knowledge is, or else they are in direct league with him. The latter seems all the more likely considering that which we saw later.

She did ask that we investigate some issues—it seems that their miners have been getting lazy of late and output has slowed, possibly due to the use of a substance known as “spark”. Alpha was able to obtain a sample of the “spark”, which turned out to be a wonderful garnish. The “spark” is a fine, dark, rusty powder which tastes of iron, chlorine, and mustard—a wonderfully sharp pungeance which would be good on any variety of meets, but goes especially well with the “crusties”. As an added aside, a small taste of the spark was enough to grant myself and Erethon the ability to see in the dark, so it may have some strategic value, in addition to its culinary uses.

We agreed to speak with the miners and descended into the mines, trusting in the fine side-effects of the spark and leaving our light behind so as to not create a more dangerous variety of spark in the coal-dust choked pits. In the mines we met with the Dullkins, the mine-folk, and dull kin they were indeed—barely aware of their surroundings and allowing their mining apparatus to fall into great disrepair.

The food they prepared was equally dull. The “sponge-soup” as they called it was dark, thick, slimy, and barely palatable by itself. But I do love a challenge. I mentioned before of the remarkable properties of the tome-ash and some interesting reactions. Here you have it. Faced with the bland soup, I proceeded to add a heaping portion of the tube-worm meat, a dash of torrid desire, and a pinch of the spark. The results were amazing. Not only did it taste wonderful, but the chopped and roasted tube-worms began to animate and grow at an alarming rate. At first taste the creature came alive and burrowed its way into my stomach, an amusing, somewhat pleasant, and extremely delicious sensation. The Dullkins heated the newly created stew to boiling to kill the worms and the end result was nigh-perfect (and very meaty). Imagine! Food that grows while you cook it! What better way to provision an army.

Here I must digress further. The madness, the Chi-Julud seems to have taken me. It is an odd feeling. Such rage. Our pact with the native-power Serberus has helped keep the rage in check, but I find myself craving battle more and more. And battle we did…

Leaving the Dullkins, Erethon used his gift of scent to seek out further stores of the spark which we might use to recreate our culinary success. He tracked the smell to an outhouse, and, beneath a line of toilet stalls, we found a ladder leading to the water sluices beneath the mine. We descended and soon encountered a large number of goblins, which can best be described as short, hairy orcs, sinewy and long of limb. The battle was furious and very confusing, due in part to a cloud of mist conjured by Horn Void. I can say however, that goblin meat, fresh, is a wonderful thing. The blood is warm and sweet, and the flesh tastes like rage and joy all at once.

We smashed all but one, whom I caught up in my jaws and took prisoner. Alpha questioned the thing extensively in their black tongue, even going so far as to torture and maim the creature, cutting off its ears, fingers, and feet, but apparently obtained no useful information.

The water disappeared into a grate, and shortly beyond that, we came to a precipice. Below us we could see a great torrent of copper pouring out of a sluice in the side of the cliff and into the magma below, where it hissed and steamed forth great plumes of green, nutrient-rich smoke, in which great masses of the green sponge from which the dwarves derived their sustenance grew.

Backtracking to the grate, we forced it open and dropped down, seeking the source of these copper-flows. Near the outflow, we found a great steel plate set into the wall, almost door-like, and mounted above it a hammer, so massive that only one of our kind could hope to wield it. An odd thing for a dwarf-hold to be sure. Feeling overcome by the Chi-Julud, I pulled the hammer free and proceeded to pound the door in, raining blow after blow upon it. Here, I think, the rage may end up being my undoing, for behind the door lay a full four-score orcs in battle array, and, at their head, a dark legate making his foul sacrifices to the Dark Lord, pouring the blood of the orcs onto his black mirror.

Apparently overcome by the Chi-Julud themselves, my companions rushed in. Alpha used his magic to animate several axes we had taken from the goblins and turn them on the orcs. Horn Void summoned another cloud of mist, this time over the mirror to cloak our actions from the Dark Lord’s sight. Erethon and I charged headlong, not into the orc horde, but past them to where we saw a large pin of copper chits being melted by a flow of magma. Channeling some unknown power, perhaps a greater manifestation of the madness, we smashed open the side of the bin in only two blows, and sent a river of molten copper and rock rushing down over the orcs, slaying fully half their number in a matter of seconds. The other orcs, faced with a rushing torrent of fiery doom, fled through a door opposite where we entered. I must say, seared orc-flesh with a hint of copper is something you definitely must try.

Not wanting to lead my companions across a sea of magma to pursue the orcs, but also overcome by the Chi-Julud, I did the only thing left to me, I climbed atop the bin which held the copper chits and hurled the great hammer with all my rage-fueled strength at the bloody mirror, shattering the foul artifact and sending the blood of many orcs splashing to mix with the sea of molten metal.

Sadly the legate escaped and I am sure that our next course of action must be to pursue him, or else to confront the queen about the dwarves’ treachery in having such servants of the dark in their midst…


Loot:

  • Rod of Alertness (+1 light mace; grants +1 perception and +1 initiative; can use Detect Alignment, Detect Magic, Detect Illusions, Discern Lies, and See Invisibility at will; has 44 charges for using protective abilities)
  • 24 doses of “The Spark”
  • Dwarven Royal Message Case
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Quick Character Creation: Warriors
A Guide to building interesting and effective warriors quickly...

Warrior-builds are all about having the right feats. Unfortunately, with such a wealth of feats, it can sometimes be hard to come up with creative combinations that actually work. The following are some simple guidelines for building the warrior you want, without spending several days reading every single feat and analyzing the combinations.

Rule 1: Start with generics…

For starters, rather than worrying about a defining weapon, super combo, or neat trick your character can do, think about their fighting style in the most basic terms. Do you want a heavily armored tank? A nimble skirmisher? An unarmed master? Combine spells and swordplay?

This is a great way to pick a class. Most of the classes in this game are surprisingly well balanced such that no single choice is obviously better than any other. If you are building a warrior, start with a class with good Base Attack Bonus. The +1 attack at 1st level makes a big difference and also opens up a lot of basic combat feats. This has the added benefit of narrowing the choices a lot—leaving us with the following:

  1. Defender: If you want to do unarmed combat, play this. Done!
  2. Wildlander: More skills than any of the others, this is a good pick if you want some skill versatility.
  3. Hexblade: Able to cast a few spells and with strong magical defenses. This could work for any combat style.
  4. Swashbuckler: If you want to build a fencer, this is your pick.
  5. Champion: The best option for a traditional sword-and-board melee fighter (since they can summon magic shields starting at only 2nd level).
  6. Totem Warrior: Good for a variety of builds. If you want a good archer, always be a Hawk Totem Warrior.
  7. Unfettered: If looking for dirty tricks and light or unarmored defense stop here.
  8. Warmain: Any heavily armored tank-build should start here.
  9. Crusader: A bad choice for any new player. This class requires a lot of book-keeping with an unnecessary level of mechanical complexity.
  10. Warblade: Works for any melee build, plus a few neat tricks on top of your regular options.

The important thing to remember is that the feats actually matter a lot more than the class. If you’re stuck just roll a d10 and move on.

Rule 2: Don’t worry about race…

While some races might seem better than others for certain warrior builds (Giants and Orcs with their +4 Strength, Faen or Elflings with +4 Dex, or Erenlanders with piles of feats), their advantages all balance out over the life of the character. By 7th or 8th level the racial modifiers will be completely overshadowed by your class abilities and magic items.

Pick a race that seems interesting to play, don’t worry about the mechanics. You’ll be happier.

Also, having a “sub-optimal” race makes your character stand-out more.

Rule 3: Have a goal in mind…

There are a lot of Prestige Classes available in this game. If you see one that looks cool or that definitely fits your character idea, GO FOR IT. Having a prestige class (or two) in mind as a goal makes your choices of skills, feats, and even races and classes strait-forward. Just make every choice with the intent of completing the prerequisites for the class as quickly as possible. You’ll have a cool character with minimal work.

Also, when doing this, watch the other prestige classes…there are a lot of overlapping prerequisites for prestige classes with similar themes, you might complete the requirements for 3 or 4, giving you some options for further customization without too much thought later on.

Note: I’ll try to put some better summary information and prerequisites on the prestige-class page when I get the chance.

Rule 4: Don’t pick 20 feats…pick 2…

There are a LOT of feats, and you’ll get a lot of them. For any warrior, two types of feats can definitely simplify your choices: Style feats (search Feats for “style”) define your choice of weapons and Tactical feats (search Feats for “tactical”) give you a variety of combat options for the cost of only 1 feat.

Both Style and Tactical feats usually have steep and very specific requirements. If you pick one feat from each category as a goal, then you’ll probably have at least 4 (possibly 7 or 8) of your other feats picked out for you. Picking a Style feat, a Tactical feat, and a Prestige class to work towards means you’ll probably be 13th or 15th level before you have to start cherry-picking from the giant feat list (and the focused work on prerequisites should make some higher-teir feats pop as obvious choices “Hey look, I already qualify for X…awesome!”).

You’ll be guaranteed to have an effective warrior with a clear “niche” in the campaign-world and some cool descriptive text to make them stand out.

Also, keep in mind, in many cases you’ll come up with cooler combinations by “picking blind” (that is, just looking at the names and prereqs and not the actual mechanics) than many people do from trying to crunch all the numbers. If things sound like they would go together well, they probably do.

Rule 5 (or 1): Keep it simple…

Don’t let any of the other player’s jabbering about this combo or that combo throw you off, there is no “optimal build” or “perfect choice” for any character. Pick a few things that sound interesting to focus on and let the rest take care of itself.

For skills, for instance, once you’ve met the prerequisites for any feats or prestige classes you are working on, just put the rest in the class skills for your class. The game designers are smart and these are usually the skills you’ll end up using the most anyways.

But..but..but… What about this bonus feat?

For that pesky “Ceremonial” or “Talent” feat that everyone starts with. Don’t fret it for your warrior. Most ceremonial feats are spellcaster-oriented and none (or very few) of the remainder give you any combat-optimization.

The simplest way to pick these is to:

  1. Throw out the ones that have ability requirements you don’t meet.
  2. Throw out any with “Mage” or “Spell” in their name (unless you want a fighter/caster combo).
  3. Look at the names and pick one that sounds cool. Doing it this way is a good way to round out your character without worrying about the minutia of the rules.

If you really want to combat-optimize though, here is the short list you should look at:

  • Ceremonial Feats: Bonded Item, Fleet of Foot, Hands as Weapons, Intuitive Sense, Sense the Unseen, Defensive Roll, or Slippery Mind.
  • Talent: Born Hero, Defensive, Natural Archer, Natural Swordsman, Night Owl, or Energy Resistance.

Maneuvers?

If you want a cool trick or two without the complexity of spell-casting or tracking per-day powers, you should take the Martial Study feat. This lets you pick one martial maneuver (from the Tome of Battle) which becomes usable once per encounter. They are cool both mechanically and thematically, and only having one or two won’t bog you down with too many brain-warping options.

If you want to power-game, one small thing to remember about these is that you use 1/2 your total character level to determine the level of powers you can use, so the longer you can make yourself hold-off on taking the feat, the cooler the tricks you will learn when you do.

The same goes for “splashing” levels of Warblade, Swordsage, or Crusader. These might look like desirable options at lower levels (since they have extra AC and save buffs), but the longer you can delay taking the level(s), the better the powers you learn will be.

Note that unless you want to play a complicated caster-like character, you are better off just taking the Martial Study feat once or twice than you are taking a level in one of these classes.

An Example?

An example of this in practice. For this we’ll be building a tough, savage front-line melee warrior. Our main criteria for all choices will be having cool, evocative names to get ideas flowing.

  1. Pick a class: Bear Totem Warrior (bears are both “tough” and “savage”)…
  2. Prestige Class Goal: Bloodclaw Master (sounds suffiently frightening and bear-like)
    • We see that is has the following requirements: Acrobatics 6 ranks (can’t get in til 7th level), Two-weapon Fighting (ok, he uses 2 weapons), Must know 3 Tiger-claw Maneuvers (huh, ok, we’ll need to learn some maneuvers before level 7)
  3. Race: Since the Prestige Class has no requirement here, we’ll defer this decision for now.
  4. Feats: Since he’s a Bear Totem Warrior the “Bear Fang Style” style feat sounds appropriate. Likewise, the “Reaping Talons” tactical feat sounds like it fits the savage motif we’re building.
    • Interestingly both of these appear to have Two-weapon Fighting as a prerequisite. Since this is also a prereq for the prestige class, we see a clear thematic element developing for his combat style, and also a clear winner for 1st feat for the character.
    • Between the two, we also require: Power Attack, Weapon Focus-dagger, Weapon Focus-axe (all feats we could take starting at level 1), and 2 Tiger-claw maneuvers.
  5. Race (revisited): Bear Fang Style requires a Str score of 15 and Two-weapon Fighting requires a Dex score of 15. Unless we rolled several high stats, we’ll probably need to go with a race that boosts one of these two stats. Since we’re keeping things simple and building a savage warrior, Orc (with its +4 Strength) seems appropriate, and we’ll probably put our highest rolled ability into Dex to make sure we qualify for everything.
  6. Leveling: It looks like we’ll need to take 1 level of Warblade (to learn our 3 Tiger-Claw maneuvers) some time before level 6, and we have a total of 6 feats already picked out. So we’ve got most of our character decisions resolved until level 12. Awesome!
  7. What we have: X is a Bear Totem Warrior who fights with a dagger in one hand and an axe in the other using the “Bear Fang Style”, he favors the use of “Reaping Talon tactics” and hopes to one day become a “Bloodclaw Master”. Sound cool? Yeah, that only took like 5 minutes…
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Session 1: The Conquest of Thorn Island
KICK OPEN THE DOOR AND RUN!

Whether long-time members of the resistance or new recruits, you are all bound together in your opposition of the Dark Lord. For 1000 years, the Dark Lord has ruled supreme in the land, his armies unmatched and his will unquestioned. All that changed a year ago, however, when the Giants, the Hu-Charad, “stewards” in their own tongue, landed on the dark shores, sailing across the Eastern Sea. Soon the ancient cities of men were rebuilt as strongholds of these invaders and the armies of the Dark Lord broke upon their walls like the waves before their ships. At last their was a glimmer of hope…

Ulfen the wildlander, Alex the truespeaker, Alpha the witch, and Erithon the swordsage were called by Anansi, the sibeccai steward of the giant enclave.
“We have a problem,” he said. “Recently several of our inbound ships have been attacked by forces of the Dark Lord. While they are not great shipbuilders, these orcs and dwarves have proved surprisingly effective at harrowing our ships from their skiffs and war-canoes. Thorn Island in the center of the bay holds an old keep and lighthouse, if we could add the keep to the Enclave, we would have an excellent position from which to control the bay and defend incoming reinforcements. Unfortunately, a scouting party has informed us that the keep is overrun with the Fell—enough that we suspect a Necromantic Conflux to be present on the island. If we are to take the island, you must find the source of the conflux and destroy it. We’ve arranged for some gnomes to take you across the bay, so as to draw less attention from the Dark Lord’s raiders. Be warned though, any who die on Thorn Island will rise to haunt us further.”

So informed, the four would-be heroes gathered the provisions they thought necessary and set out from the north gate of the enclave, making their way a mile up the shore to a copse of pine trees where they met Merlkir, the gnome smuggler who had been hired to take them across the bay. They shipped the gnome’s small boat and he took them far out into the bay, landing them on the seaward side of the Thorn Island…and promptly hid himself and the boat under a carefully camouflaged tarp.

The party made their way around to the front gate of the old keep, where Alpha found a fairly recent elf corpse, which he promptly urinated on then looted—obtaining a small scrap of parchment with several symbols on it. Alex shoved on the gates, which collapsed in a heap, and stepped inside out of the wind to light a torch, discovering that the symbols were words of the True Tongue which could grant power over the undead.

…and just in time, as the torch-light drew the attention of nearly a dozen shambling maegral. Ulfen spotted the creatures at a considerably distance and the party peppered the slow-moving corpses with arrows before they finally came within the torch-light, where Alex invoked the word “Lux” to force them to parley—suggesting that they go out and feast on the elf corpse.

With the maegral thus distracted, the party headed strait for the central tower of the lighthouse. As they reached the door they heard terrible howls, grunts, and splashing noises as nearly three-score orcs landed their war-canoes on the shore of the island and were immediately met by the zombies that the party had sent outside.

The party ducked into the building and barricaded the door behind them. They then began opening—and promptly slamming doors. Behind the first they found a horrible horned beast standing before a fire-blackened altar (shut that door). Behind the second they found a pair of grotesque dog-like creatures which spit globules of sticky, corrosive goo at Ulfen. Erithon cut Ulfen loose and slammed that door too. Behind door number three they found an ancient armory, thankfully free of disgusting monsters, rushed in and closed the door behind them.

As Alex piled broken weapon racks in front of the door and Alpha healed Ulfen, Erithon searched the room and found that one wall was illusory. The party piled into the hidden chamber behind it and waited for several minutes until the sounds of battle and the screams of dying orcs had ceased. They finally emerged to find the door of the tower smashed open from the inside, apparently by a pair of salt-crusted orc corpses that they had ignored earlier, and the courtyard littered with the smashed and hacked-up remains of 45 dead orcs, 20 maelgral, and a pair of salt-mummies.

They looted the orcs and headed back to the chapel, prepared to face the horned thing before the altar. When they walked into the chapel, the thing did not move other than to watch them. After attempting to address it in several languages, it responded in fluent Truespeak, informing Alex that it was the remnants of the spirit of Amon, the god of the sun, and the first deity to fall before the onslaught of the Dark Lord a millenia ago. His holy light house was overrun and he manifested to personally challenge the Dark Lord’s armies and was cast down. Alex asked how he might be freed and he responded simply “Light”.

The party looked up at the collapsed remains of the light house and tentatively considered scaling the tower to light the lamp…only to think better of that idea when the horned thing belched fire at them. Retreating outside, they decided to check the smaller buildings surrounding the lighthouse tower.

The first they checked was an old barracks where Alpha was greeted by a hungry, ghostly apparition that sent him running, screaming for the gate. Erithon intercepted him and the party cautiously entered, Alex again invoking the words of parley and warding. Hundreds of spirits poured from the walls, surrounding the party, but were held at bay by the words of creation. Ulfen entreated them in the Black Speech and they responded with a cacophony of wails and lamentations, revealing that they were the spirits of the Dark Lord’s armies that had assailed the keep. When Alex introduced himself as “the bringer of light”, he was greeted by more wailing and was directed to a single floorboard which seemed somehow untouched by the ages.

Beneath the floorboard the party found a dragon-leather bag containing a single pearl which glowed with a brilliance so penetrating that it could light even the largest of castles. The glowing pearl blinded Ulfen, caused the spirits to evaporate like so much fog, and seemed unimpeded by any barrier, even the heroes own bodies.

So armed they marched back into the chapel, Alpha leading with the pearl in one hand and an orcish shield in the other. On seeing the pearl’s brilliance, the horned beast charged strait at Alpha, slamming into his shield with such force that he was driven several inches into the ground, but somehow unharmed. Ulfen moved around to flank the beast, but saw that, in the light of the pearl, the altar’s surface seemed polished and…mirror-like…and knew at once that the Dark Lord was aware of their presence.

He rushed to smash the black mirror that was the altar, hammering on it with his waraxe, while Alpha and Erithon kept the beast busy.

Alpha tossed the pearl to Ulfen, who, blinded by its light, missed, causing it to spill onto the altar before rolling away. As the pearl hit the altar, Ulfen saw that altar’s surface ripple, like a stone thrown into a pond. He grabbed the pearl and slammed it on the altar as Alex invoked a word of empowerment.

The altar exploded as if struck by a boulder, a wave of reflective black liquid-glass washing over the room. Followed, strangely, by the sudden appearance of a charging horde of heavily armed and armored giants…

Within minutes the keep was cleared and secured, and the giants set to repairing the walls and tower. The pearl was set into a sconce at the top of the light-house, bathing the entire island, the bay, the city on the shore, and the sea for miles around in its brilliant white radiance.

suck that Lord of Darkness!


Awards:

  1. All party members are now 2nd level.
  2. All party members have access to the Fellhunter heroic path.
  3. Any Binder who attempts to Bind Amon while on Thorn Island gains a +4 bonus on his binding check and gains double the normal range for his Darkvision and Fire Breath abilities while the bond lasts.
  4. Alpha earns 1 hero point for daring a deity to charge him to buy time for the party to destroy the mirror.

Loot:

  1. Amulet of Charm Resistance +4 — Alpha
  2. +2 Undead-bane Heavy Mace — unclaimed
  3. +1 Urutuk (automatically kills elves on a natural roll of 17 or highter) — unclaimed
  4. Dwarf-sized +1 Chain Hauberk (casts Haste on the wearer for 1 minute, 1/day) — Ulfen
  5. +2 Composite Longbow (allows full strength bonus, 2/day will automatically hit for maximum base damage) — Ulfen
  6. Adamantine Couter (articulated elbow joint from a suit of full-plate armor) — Erithon
    • Dimension Door once every 10 minutes.
    • Airy Water (creates airy water automatically around the wearer, whenever submerged)
    • The wearer can see dweomers within 30 feet and distinguish between spell areas of effect, enchanted beings, and permanent magical auras.
  7. Random Loots:
    • Stone Robe (+10 armor bonus to AC, usable by divine casters only)
    • Scroll of Truth (forces a creature to answer one question truthfully, 1/day — the answer appears written on the scroll)
    • Orc-sized Field Plate Armor +1
    • Javelin +1
  8. 45 Heavy Steel Shields, 45 suits of Scale Mail, 45 blunted Vardatches
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FAQ
Compiled answers to questions received via e-mail and not covered elsewhere

1—Character Creation

  1. Roll 4d6 and take the 3 highest for ability scores. Roll 6 times and assign how you want.
  2. Favored Classes follow the Pathfinder model:
    • The first class a character takes is his favored class, regardless of any specific classes listed in your race entry.
    • You are never penalized for multi-classing.
    • Each level you take in a favored class grants +1 hit point or +1 skill point.
  3. Choose a class, race, feat(s), and skills as normal (see the Main Page for detailed lists of available classes, races, skills, and feats.
    • The Feat list has already been corrected for prerequisites and only lists the relevant version of each feat.
  4. Each character starts with the normal rolled starting gold for their class. If not specified, roll 5d4 x10 gp. Any equipment in any of the allowed books is fair game.
    • Any leftover cash is converted to “value points” (a VP is any trade good worth roughly 1 week of subsistence level food or 1 gp equivalent, but this may be in any form: gems, hacksilver, food, spices, whatever…since the Dark Lord’s government does not mint official currency). Your buying power is the same…
  5. Ponies start with a Heroic Path (from the Midnight Campaign Setting), to make up for their weakness relative to the other races. Non-ponies will gain access to Heroic Paths as a reward for completing quests. Non-pony characters are free to change their Heroic Paths as new ones are made available.

2—Traits, Bonus Feats, etc.

  1. Free Feat! According to Arcana Unearthed all characters start with a bonus Ceremonial or Talent feat, in addition to the normal feats gained by leveling, bonus feats from your race, or bonus feats from your class.
  2. Feat Progression: As in Pathfinder, characters gain 1 feat every odd level (1, 3, 5, etc.)
  3. No Pathfinder Traits. They are not actually part of the Core Rulebook and do not appear in any of the materials we are using.

3—Experience

Screw it.

Experience is the most annoying and disassociated rule in D&D, so lets try something different. Characters level based on completing quests. It is entirely up to them how they complete those quests. No more tracking CRs or ELs for encounters, or worrying if you have the right number of encounters. PCs should feel free to sneak, diplomacize, bypass, or otherwise avoid encounters to their hearts content. Just get the job done and you will be rewarded.

4—Alternative Combat Incentive

Quothe PFairfield – “The PCs should be rewarded for kicking a$$.”

Many of the combat encounters in this game will be above the PCs level (as figured in traditional 3.0+ versions of D&D). Like older (2e or earlier) versions of D&D, death should be an expected result from getting in a fight. That said, if you do succeed, good for you.

While all encounters may have the normal treasure drops (i.e. any gear the opponents had), any encounter where the PCs win against overwhelming odds (i.e. route an army of orcs that had them outnumbered 10-to-1 when the battle started) will result in each PC getting to roll once on the GIANT RANDOM MAGIC ITEM TABLES in volume 4 of the Encyclopedia Magica. It is up to the GM what qualifies as “overwhelming odds” and this rule hopefully won’t come into play more than once per level (though awesome PCs are free to prove me wrong.

Hey, rolling multiple d1000s is just more fun right?

5-Other Rewards: Hero Points

In addition to treasure, levels, and heroic paths, characters may also earn Hero Points.

Sometimes, a character commits a selfless act or a brave deed that one can only call “heroic.” In such a case, the DM should award the character a hero point. A witch that jumps down into a pit full of vipers to heal a dying friend, even though he knows he’ll take damage from the fall and risks death from the snake’s venom, is a real hero. Hero points are a reward for that kind of valiant action. Hero points can be used at the player’s discretion to perform amazing—often otherwise impossible—actions.

The most important thing to remember about hero points is that awarding them to PCs, or not awarding them, is totally up to the DM. Some characters may never earn even a single hero point, while others, over the course of the campaign, may earn many. The DM is encouraged to be parsimonious with them.

Characters with the Born Hero talent (see Chapter Five) should, if they act at all appropriately, earn at least 1 hero point per level. Still, the exact rewards are up to the DM. A character should never earn a hero point performing an action in which he uses a hero point.

6-Truenames

Several of the books we are using have options related to the use of Truenames. Clarifications on those interactions will be added here as needed.

  1. Characters that take a bonus Talent feat at 1st level (rather than a bonus Ceremonial feat) are “Unbound” or “unnamed”. These characters have no Truename. They are immune to Truename magic (both beneficial and harmful) and may never take Ceremonial feats. Attempts to learn the Truename of these characters automatically fails.
  2. Truenames can be learned according to the rules in the Tome of Magic, or through use of the 6th-level spell Learn Truename from Arcana Unearthed.
  3. Characters (other than Truenamers) do not automatically know their own Truename.

7-Races

  1. Erenlanders get 8 extra skill points at 1st level and 2 extra skill points per level thereafter. Yes, that’s right 8 extra skill points at 1st level.
  2. Erenlanders also get 1 rank in a Craft or Profession skill of their choice, and that skill is a class skill (rather than 4 extra ranks in the skill).
  3. Yes, the races in the Midnight Campaign Setting are 2x as powerful as those appearing elsewhere.
    • Simple fix: Double all numerical bonuses—stat bonuses, skill bonuses, combat bonuses, etc. (excluding size bonuses) and double the number of uses per day of any spell-like abilities for all races appearing in Arcana Unearthed.
    • Ponies gain 2 secondary hoof attacks as natural weapons and have their choice of any Heroic Path at the beginning of their careers.

8—Creating Characters Above 1st level

  1. As above. Roll starting cash for each level (i.e. a 2nd level Witch starts with 10d4 x10 gp). You are free to purchase magic items from the available sources at the listed prices.
    • The party should acquire more then enough magic items left over from the old societies and the servants of the dark to support and equip new characters as they come in.
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Ponies?!

Consider this: A young wizard discovers an ancient prophecy which states that, within two days, the deposed Goddess of the Moon-who has been imprisoned for a thousand years due to a failed coup against her older sister, the Goddess of the Sun-will escape her imprisonment, vanquish her sister, and cover the lands in everlasting night!

This young wizard tries to tell everyone of the impending apocalypse, but being a young student, is ignored and instead given menial tasks to perform. Lo and behold, the prophecy does come to pass, and the student knows that the only way to defeat the Moon Goddess and reinstate the rule of the benevolent Sun Goddess is to find and utilize an ancient artifact. To that end, she recruits a diverse group of individuals with conflicting personalities but complementary skills. They must embark upon an arduous overland quest to the ruined keep of the Sisters, where it is believed that the artifact still resides. Along the way they are imperiled by terrain, the elements, monsters, and temptation.

After much travail, the group finally arrives at its destination, and before the young wizard can assemble the artifact, the evil Moon Goddess appears! In a last-ditch effort, the wizard discovers the proper activation sequence for the artifact, vanquishes the evil Moon Goddess, and restores the Sun Goddess to her rightful place in the sky.

Perhaps it’s not great literature, but this plot would be right at home in any fantasy setting. Monsters, artifacts, ruined castles, apocalyptic deicide — these are all quite epic and heroic, not to mention staples of many D&D campaigns. And a group of individuals who sometimes squabble but all have unique talents? That’s pretty much the definition of a group of Player Characters of diverse classes and alignments.

Like this...And guess what? I just told you the plot of the two-part series opener of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.

So…

PONIES! (courtesy of Paizo publishing)

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