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All The World’s Monsters

April 25th, 2013 No comments

A couple of months ago, I read Playing at the World, a history of early wargaming and its evolution into Dungeons & Dragons. It’s a massive brick of a book–700+ pages in an ant-sized font–and almost too definitive. Still, if you want to truly understand from where this hobby sprung, you need to seek it out.

I came away from it with a much greater appreciation for D&D co-creator E. Gary Gygax, who–if not the sole progenitor of the role-playing game–was clearly the chief architect of the classic dungeon crawl. But what impressed me most about this account of Gygax was his work in classifying and codifying the monsters of our shared mythology.

Allow me to backtrack a bit. I’d been doing some research into creatures of legend in an effort to create a bestiary for the Dungeon World RPG. My first step was to consult my treasured copy of Mythical Monsters. Published in 1973 by Scholastic Books, I bought this cartoon guidebook in grade school and have kept it to this day.*

It drew heavily on Jorge Luis Borges’ 1957 work Book of Imaginary Beings, so I sought out that volume as well. From it, I learned two important things:

  • Many mythological creatures took no definitive form. Accounts of their appearance and attributes varied wildly depending on who was telling the tale.**
  • Pliny the Elder would believe pretty much anything. You could walk up to him and claim that a hippopotamus breathed poisonous gas and foraged for pearls at the ocean’s bottom, and he’d write it up for his Natural History, no questions asked.

“No! Really! You say that one look into its eyes would kill you stone dead? Yet you’re still alive and telling me this? Why, I believe every word of it!”

Returning now to E. Gary Gygax, it’s well-known that he drew on many sources in developing his extensive list of dungeon denizens: Tolkien, Conan the Barbarian, Ray Harryhausen films, comic books and dime store toys. But as Playing at the World describes, Gygax went one step further than Borges: he pinned down these mutable myths. He distinguished the cockatrice from the basilisk, the gorgon from the medusa, the goblin from the kobold. Much of what we think we know about the catoplebas, the peryton and the manticore came by way of the Monster Manual.

As a fan of all things dark and dangerous, I tip my flagon of ale to you, Gary, for your role in preserving and cataloging our heritage of horrors.

*Unfortunately, in scanning the artwork for this article, I broke the binding of my beloved 40-year-old paperback. You may now feel sorry for me.

**Reading the wild descriptions of beings widely agreed upon as purely fanciful, I was struck by how similar they were to those found in the core beliefs of accepted, mainstream religion. Which of these is the myth?

  • “(It) was larger than a mountain. Its eyes shot forth flames and its mouth was so enormous that nine thousand men would fit inside..the beast had three gullets; all vomited forth inextinguishable fire.”
  • “(I) saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns…the beast which I saw was like unto a leopard, and his feet were as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion…”

Trick question. They both are.

Categories: Games Tags: ,

A Fetish For Gaming

August 20th, 2012 No comments

One of the events I look forward to most each year is Gen Con Indy, when tens of thousands of board-, war-, card- and role-playing gaming enthusiasts descend on Indianapolis for four days of cardboard and plastic nirvana.

The original Gen Con (literally short for “Geneva Convention”) was held in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. I first attended in the late ’70s, soon after my introduction to Dungeons & Dragons and the cottage industries that game spawned. I went back sporadically over the years, but it wasn’t until the gathering moved to Indianapolis in 2003 that I made it an annual thing.

This year was the first time that I stayed for a second day. Previously, I’d been a Friday-only guest, taking advantage of the (relatively) smaller weekday crowd. The problem with that was that it meant that I rarely stepped outside the cavernous dealers’ hall, and had little opportunity to actually try out some of the new games on display.

I think two days was just about right. I was able to thoroughly cover the dealers’ hall and still have time for some demo games. Three days would’ve been too much; I was fried by Saturday evening.

Wizards of the Coast, the Hasbro subsidiary that publishes the Magic: The Gathering card game as well as Dungeons & Dragons, made a good showing with its Drow*-themed booth, the centerpiece of which was a massive, life-sized statue of Lolth, the Demon Queen of Spiders. They also gave out some adorable papercraft models of Lolth.

There were Doctor Who fans galore this year. Nicholas Briggs, the uberfan-turned-radio drama producer who managed to get himself installed as the official voice of both the Daleks and the Cybermen, was on hand and using a modulating microphone to threaten passersby with extermination.

Cubicle 7 was demonstrating its new Doctor Who card game. It was, as friend Dave Lartigue and I feared, pretty much a numbers contest with a veneer of Who theming. The gal in the TARDIS dress was cute, though.**

When Gen Con Indy began, costumed geeks were thin on the ground. That’s changed. Nowadays, you can’t throw a 20-sided die without hitting an anime character. The parade of short-skirted, be-ribboned maids was challenged only by the ranks of the Steampunks. (“Steampunk” is an aesthetic based on a quasi-Victorian reality of steam-powered technology. Basically, it involves a lot of gears and corsets.***)

It occurred to me that Gen Con is now providing cover for fetishists. For the women, it seemed as if there’d been an open call for the sluttiest slut who ever slutted. Lots of flesh on display is what I’m saying. For the men, it was largely some combination of leather, top hats and creepy mustaches. (With the occasional cross-dressing superheroine.) When I left for dinner in downtown Indy, I passed a Steampunk couple with the man holding the woman on a leash.****

A couple of blocks away, there was a massive gathering of motorcyclists pointlessly roaring up and down Meridian Avenue. I think that they have more in common with the Gen Con crowd than might be assumed. Certainly, both parties demonstrate a love of leather and a need for exhibitionism.

Amongst the grown men dressed as Finn from Adventure Time, there were some impressive, creative costumes. The woman (or was it?) attired as one of Doctor Who‘s Clockwork Robots had its eerie, gliding movements down pat. And, of course, I was absolutely in love with this gal who came as Mothra.

Oh, I hear you saying, wasn’t this supposed to be about games? Sure, and I got to try out several of them. Dungeon Fighter was a highly-enjoyable dice fest in which the players cooperate to take down the usual assortment of subterranean monsters, except that they do it by attempting to bounce their dice into a large target. Some monsters and/or special attacks require one to toss a die underneath a leg or off the tip of one’s nose. Hilarity really did ensue.

X-Wing was basically the aerial combat miniatures game Wings of War with a Lucasfilm overlay, not that this is necessarily a bad thing. I could certainly see myself getting it, especially if I found it for cheap. The problem is that the core set comes with only two TIE Fighters and a single X-Wing. Remember that movie scene where one X-Wing got in a dogfight with a couple of TIE Fighters? Me neither. If you want a second X-Wing, or perhaps even a Y-Wing, be prepared to throw down 15 bucks per ship. That said, the miniatures are high quality, and the forthcoming Millennium Falcon is a thing of beauty.

Relic really is nothing more than a Warhammer 40,000 reskinning of Talisman, which is itself more-or-less D&D Monopoly. I enjoyed it well enough, and may consider it when it hits shelves later this year. I am concerned, however, that it will go the same route as Talisman and its million, billion add-ons. (Though, given that while at Gen Con I bought expansion sets for both Ascension and Quarriors, I can’t really complain too much.)

I got to play a full session of Dungeon World, a rules-lite role-playing game that straddles a line between old-school D&D and freewheeling storytelling games. I participated in DW’s recent Kickstarter, and was eager to play it with an experienced game master. It was a lot of fun, kinda like improvisational theater with just enough rules crunch to keep me satisfied. The GM used a nifty set of geomorphic dice to design the dungeon on the fly, and I wound up buying a set for myself.

In addition to a crapton of dice, I walked away with two painted squads of Sisters of Battle for my Warhammer 40K army. I recently got back into that game, and realized that I didn’t have a hope of being competitive without at least a couple more units of armor-plated nuns. As I was dreaded the possibility of painting up another twenty metal miniatures covered in fiddly details, I was grateful to find these. They need a bit of touch-up work, but in general they’re painted about as well as I would do on my own. I also picked up a bunch of bits and bobs for some Warhammer modeling projects I’ll be working on.

My other big purchase was a copy of Star Trek Catan, a lightly-reskinned version of the ever-popular Settlers of Catan. On one hand, it’s about as pointless as the multitude of themed Monopoly sets. Aside from some character cards which grant players limited special abilities, it really is just Catan with starships instead of roads. On the other hand–and this was the hand that reached for my wallet–it’s Catan with starships instead of roads! And Nichelle “Uhura” Nichols was there to autograph the box! Ka-ching!

All in all, I had a great time at Gen Con Indy, spent more money than I should’ve, and came away feeling satiated. It’s less than a year until Gen Con 2013. Can’t wait!

*The Drow are a race of dark-skinned elves who live underground and are uniformly evil, with the notable exception of a few tortured outsiders who have entirely too many books written about them. Unfortunately, the combination of dark-skinned goth fantasy characters and costumed conventioneers tends to result in public displays of blackface.

**There was also a second girl in a TARDIS dress, accessorized with a blue lamp perched atop her head. And on my way out of the hall on Saturday evening, I briefly spotted one in a bump-covered Dalek dress, complete with tiny dome hat.

***Slap a couple of cogs on your corset. Boom! You’re steampunk!

****Because, I guess, the importation of steam-powered computers into Victorian society loosened England’s long history of cultural repression and turned London into a haven for BDSM enthusiasts? I’m just spitballin’ here. 

The Ovens Of Ar-Gar

March 22nd, 2012 No comments

Recently, I’ve been reading a lot about tabletop role-playing games. In addition to news and speculation about the upcoming 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, I’ve been following a number of gaming blogs for their tips on running a better campaign. That’s when I stumbled across the One Page Dungeon Contest, an annual challenge in which Dungeon Masters submit complete adventures formatted to fit a single sheet of paper–maps, descriptions and all. Many of the past winners were entertaining, clever and inspiring.

I decided to try my hand at it and enter this year’s competition. However, I’ve got a lot on my plate right now, so rather than starting from scratch, I revised an old scenario I wrote for the one and only time that I ran a 3rd Edition D&D session.

The original version was my unofficial sequel to a gaming community in-joke. Years ago, professional game designer Monte Cook (now leading the 5th Edition design team) wrote a humor piece entitled “The World’s Shortest (Yet Technically Complete) Adventure,” aka “The Orc and the Pie.” (Sample text: “Adventure Background: An orc has a pie.”) It ended with a suggestion for a follow-up: “Somewhere, there is a bakery making these good pies. Perhaps it’s guarded by more orcs.”

I took that as a challenge. And so it was that one day a band of stout-hearted heroes delved deep underground to find the source of those wondrous baked goods. Goblins were murdered, pies were thrown. Good times.

Anyhow, it struck me that this adventure would be relatively easy to recraft as a One Page Dungeon. I drew a new cavern map and condensed my overwritten descriptions to the bare essentials. The result just fits on one page, though I did have to resort to an 8 point font.

Click on the .jpg below for the actual .pdf of “The Ovens of Ar-Gar.”

Not everything from the original made the cut. I left out the unhelpful old woman obsessively prattling on about her potatoes. (Crazy old ladies are a role-playing fallback for me.) I also excised the bit in which the party stumbled across the site of Monte Cook’s own adventure, a literal 10′ stone cube containing a dead orc and an eaten pie.

However, most everything else is there, including some stuff I’d forgotten about. My favorite is the Angry Fish, inspired by what I imagined to be the resentment felt by a goldfish in a bowl. The Angry Fish swims back and forth in its underground grotto, fiercely guarding its single gold coin.

You’ll note that the descriptions are short and generic. That’s because the contest specifically requests that entries be game system-agnostic. I also left the number of monsters and the composition of treasure up to the Game Master so that the scenario can be scaled to fit his or her needs.

That’s about it. Enjoy!

Categories: Games Tags: ,

Lucky Geek, Or The Luckiest Geek?

March 1st, 2012 No comments

The guy in the center just rolled a “natural 20″ on the “Gender and Relative Attractiveness of Your Fellow Players” chart. (Also the “Unlikely Occurrences” chart.)

By the way, I used to have those dungeon tiles. I bought them at Gen Con. They were made of cheap particle wood, but did I ever love constructing labyrinths out of them.

Image from the late, lamented kids’ magazine Dynamite. The full article is surprisingly fair and well-written for what appears to have been 1980.

Perils & Polyhedrals

January 18th, 2012 No comments

I was mildly perturbed last week when game publisher Wizards of the Coast confirmed a rumor that had been percolating in the role-playing community for some months: they are already working on a new edition of Dungeons & Dragons. (Yes, I know…the horror, the horror.)

While I’m not filled with nerd rage, it annoys me for several reasons, not the least of which is that I have really enjoyed playing 4th Edition. It was the first iteration of the game since the early days of the hobby–the late ’70s and early ’80s–that left me feeling confident enough to run my own campaign. (Two of them, in fact.)

Furthermore, I feel that it’s much too soon for a new edition. (See the link in the first paragraph above for a brief history of the game’s publishing history.) 4th Edition was issued less than four years ago, making it the shortest-lived version by far.

Whatever. I can deal with it. I understand the business reasons behind the decision. (Google “edition wars” if you want a taste of the internecine conflict between 4th Edition, 3rd Edition and even 0th Edition players.) And, with the announcement of open playtesting, it seems that Wizards is at least trying to respect the hobbyists and bring them all back together for a monster-slaying chorus of “Kumbaya.”

Entirely coincidentally, I’d been working on my own homebrew RPG project when the 5th Edition announcement hit. More about that in a few moments.

Over the last few years, a number of D&D-ish games have been published under something called the Open Game License. The OGL was an effort by Wizards of the Coast/Hasbro to bring the open-source concept to paper-and-pencil RPGs. Their notion was that in making the core rules of D&D free to everyone to use in their own compatible products, Wizards would become the unquestioned brand leader. It didn’t work out that way.

First, the hobby market was overrun with dump trucks’ worth of mediocre 3rd party supplements. Second–and most germane to this discussion–is that it allowed other companies to publish stand-alone D&D knockoffs. When Wizards dumped 3rd Edition in 2008, the community backlash was substantial enough that rival company Paizo issued an entire line of very successful D&D-except-in-name products called Pathfinder.

Others have used the OGL to reverse-engineer earlier editions of D&D. Games such as Labyrinth Lord and OSRIC are as-much-as-the-law-allows straight-up reprints of  the 1st Edition rules.

I looked at those latter games and thought, “If they can do that, what’s stopping me from creating the kind of D&D game that I would most want to play?”

And that’s why I haven’t been blogging recently.

I’m ready to present a first draft of the project that’s been taking up too much of my time these past few weeks, a rules-lite fantasy role-playing game I’m calling Perils & Polyhedrals. (“Polyhedrals” refers to the funky, many-sided dice widely used in the gaming hobby.)

It’s not all my own work. The beating heart of it is MicroLite 20, which boiled the rules of the s0-called Fantasy System Reference Document down to their bones. There’s even a dash of Pathfinder in there. That’s the beauty of the Open Game License; most of the rules published under it are themselves open to others to use and modify.

However, there’s a lot of me in there as well. Perils & Polyhedrals is my attempt to create a game that offers a basic structure for character creation and combat without a lot of rules to remember. It keeps the things that I like and jettisons much that I don’t.

It’s probably not ready for prime-time just yet. I haven’t playtested it at all. I think that the math should work; it’s at least consistent. Take a look, and let me know what you think!

31 Monstrous Failures #16: Black Pudding

October 16th, 2011 No comments

Once again, I’m fudging the premise of this year’s Halloween countdown. The monster known as the Black Pudding isn’t itself a failure. In its day (the mid ’70s), it was a formidable addition to Dungeons & Dragons‘ roster of roving oozes. It was immune to cold-based attacks, and lightning bolts split it into two or more independent creatures. The Black Pudding quickly dissolved adventurers’ hard-won loot and generally made for a bad day in the labyrinth.

Not being familiar with British foodstuffs, I was puzzled by the Black Pudding’s odd name. And it wasn’t until this month–during my just-concluded trip to the U.K.–that I was at last confronted by the reality of the…

Black Pudding!

Two of the three hotels at which I stayed included black pudding in their breakfast buffets. A combination of curiosity and a desire to sample the local cuisine led me to sample the hockey puck-shaped item. To be honest, it didn’t taste like much of anything. It was just a hard, in-no-way-pudding-like object that was inexplicably deemed edible.

It wasn’t until a few days later at a butcher’s stand that I thought to inquire about the composition of the black pudding. Turns out that it’s really a quasi-sausage primarily made of congealed pig’s blood. I don’t know if this was one of those”we use every part of the buffalo” notions, or if someone was sitting around one day thinking “what am I going to do with all of this pig’s blood?,” but that anyone ever believed that this was a thing that people should eat boggles me. And that they would still do so in the 21st Century? Really, blood pucks for breakfast are best left behind with leeching and the other shitty ideas of our stupid, stupid ancestors.

31 Monstrous Failures #8: Thought Eater

October 8th, 2011 No comments

The creators of Dungeons & Dragons soon ran out of “real” monsters like Chimeras and Manticores, and had to fill out the ranks with fiends from their own imaginations. Some were inspired, like the Beholder: a floating orb covered in magic-spewing eyestalks. But not all of them were as awesome as the Gelatinous Cube. Some were more like the…

Thought Eater!

From the original Monster Manual:

Thought eaters are dwellers in the ether. Their senses, however, extend into the physical plane, and any psionic or psionic-related energy use in either area will attract their attention (range of ability or magic equals attraction range). The thought eater appears to be something like a sickly gray, skeletal-bodied, enormous headed platypus to those who are able to observe it. Its webbed paws allow it to swim through the ether.

Somehow, I don’t see slayers of sickly, skeletal platypuses becoming heroes of legend.

Natural 20

February 5th, 2011 No comments

Time’s resident TV critic James Poniewozik made a good point: for all its pretensions of nerddom, The Big Bang Theory has never done anything “so wholly, committedly geeky” as an entire episode centered around a game of Dungeons & Dragons. They’ve come close, as when the boys purchased the Time Machine from George Pal’s 1960 movie adaptation. But as the series has become a mainstream hit, it has also settled into a string of lazy comic book references.

No, the D&D episode came from time-slot rival Community, aka The Best Show That You’re Not Watching. Now in its second season, Community has at times become too weird (Abed as Jesus) and/or ambitious (a stop-motion animated Christmas show) for its own good, but when it truthfully focuses on its characters it’s pretty terrific. An all-D&D installment initially sounded as if might be a high-concept, elaborate pop-culture parody similar to last year’s zombie apocalypse, but wisely the action remained centered on a table strewn with character sheets and 20-sided dice. (Mostly. There was Chevy Chase’s Throne of Evil constructed from file boxes and traffic cones.)

Now, the little geek that lives inside my head must be allowed to declare that the game of Dungeons & Dragons depicted was greatly simplified. There were no miniatures, charts or graph paper maps, and Abed (in the role of Dungeon Master) was rolling the die for everyone. That’s not wrong, per se, it’s just a different play style. What the episode did very right, however, was to capture the feel of sitting in a group and collectively weaving a story.

I found some of the in-game interactions very familiar. When Britta “the Needlessly Defiant” questioned whether the goblins about to attack the party had had their lands violated or obsessed about giving the gnome waiter at the tavern his dignity, it took me back to my own adventuring days, when all-too-often I attempted to chat up the monsters.

Then there was the brilliantly uncomfortable scene in which Annie (playing Hector the Well-Endowed) seduced Abed (as the comely elf maiden who owned a pegasus stable) while everyone else looked on with a mixture of bemusement, horror and note-taking. We’ll never know exactly what Alison Brie was saying during that montage, but we can assume that it was very, very naughty.* I’m pretty sure that just about every role-playing group ever has had a similar experience.

Somehow, I got through the initial draft of this review without mentioning Senor Chang’s appropriate yet still wildly-inappropriate blackface appearance as one of the game’s Drow dark elves. “So we just gonna ignore that hate crime, huh?”

Normally I would embed the video here, but I know that it’s unlikely to remain available for more than a couple of weeks. So if you missed Thursday night’s broadcast, go to NBC’s Community website.

*I am looking forward to the hits I’m about to get for “naughty Alison Brie.”

To Dungeons Deep And Caverns Old

April 24th, 2010 No comments

It should be a surprise to no one that I was one of the founding members of the Hobart High School Dungeons & Dragons Club*. Each Saturday morning, about twenty of us took over the basement of the Hobart Public Library for a half day of imaginary violence.

Here, courtesy the HHS yearbook, is the sole photo I have of me In flagrante dungeon…

Note that I was both wearing a Star Wars T-shirt and using an Empire Strikes Back school folder as a Dungeon Master’s screen. Yeah, I was stylin’.

What’s truly scary is that I’ve just realized that all these years later I can still immediately identify the D&D adventure being played by the two virgins in the background: the infamous “Queen of the Demonweb Pits.”

All this is my way of pointing out that I am indeed an old-schooler when it comes to dungeoneering. And now, nearly three decades later, I’m running a twice-monthly exercise in Old Tyme D&D I’m calling “The Tower of Mad Mungus.”

In my last update, I noted that some of the less likely members of the D&D bestiary were blamed on experimentation by a mad wizard. I decided that it was high time someone met him.

So it is that our party of adventurers have found themselves in the chambers far below Mungus’ tilted tower. Having defeated a fierce owlbear, they pressed on into a series of caverns.

Their first challenge was a cave overgrown with mushrooms. Large mushrooms. Mushrooms that smelled like warm, freshly-baked bread. When disturbed, they blasted a cloud of spores into the surrounding area. Unfortunately–or perhaps fortunately–the heroes never learned what effect those spores may have had, as they managed to safely bypass them**.

In a maze of twisty little passages, all alike, they found that certain sections of the floor glittered with bluish crystal. Those peering into this “mirror crystal” found that they could see portions of the tunnels otherwise out of sight…and that a monster was looking back at them! In a manner understood by no one including myself, the clawed insect/lizard was able to fire its poisoned spines at them from its lair elsewhere in the caves.

Hunting the sniper, they were beset by a bunch of young kruthiks and their pissed-off parents.

And now, a word from the Dungeon Master:

“Despite my stated intention to provide an old-school D&D experience, kruthiks are from a much later period in the game’s evolution. I included them for two reasons:

1) The game itself seems uncertain what they are. The 4th edition Monster Manual keeps referring to them as “reptilian,” even though they both look and behave much more like insects. They have a “hive lord,” for Pelor’s sake. So they seemed to fit the theme of creatures produced by madness.

2) I have an awful lot of kruthik miniatures.”

Having hacked their way through the skittering, spiky menace, the party next found themselves in a large grotto divided by an underground river and dotted with stalagmites and stalactites. Rob, my fellow old-schooler, heard the magic word “stalactites” and immediately began searching the ceiling for piercers.

“As I’ve previously noted, the piercer is one of the silliest 1st edition monsters. A mollusk which closely resembles a stalactite, the piercer lurks on cave ceilings, waiting to drop on its prey. If it misses, it has no recourse other than to crawl sloooooooowly away and try again…much, much later.

In other words, it’s a monster which is precisely as dangerous as a piece of loose stone.

When 3rd edition D&D came along, it was replaced by the darkmantle, a squiddy thing that flaps down from above and tries to wrap itself around its victim’s head.”

No piercers presented themselves, but sure enough a flock of darkmantles dropped down. Many heads were engulfed. Our intrepid wizard was forced to fire rays of frost at his own noggin in hope of knocking loose a tenacious, tentacled terror.

And that’s when the piercers began to fall.

The first one missed, but Rob’s warlord was speared right in the sternum and lay gasping at the brink of death. Oddly, I believe Rob was actually happy about being laid low by a piercer.

It was looking bad for a few moments, but the good guys eventually won the day. Then, something completely unexpected happened…

Another piercer plummeted to the floor. And excused itself.

The creature explained that it had once been a knight polymorphed into its current form by Mad Mungus himself. Sir Pearce† spent the next fifty years waiting in the cave for a party of dungeoneers that could help him to break this terrible curse.

Rob has kindly provided his iPad sketch of Sir Pearce.

And that’s where we left things. Five defiant adventurers and one stouthearted, conical mollusk against the forces of evil! To be continued…

*aka The Grand Order of High Schoolers Who Were in No Way Likely to Get Laid.

**Or did they?***

***Yes, they did.

I’m so sorry.

Categories: Games Tags: ,

Back To The Dungeon

April 12th, 2010 No comments

Yesterday we kickstarted my long-dormant Dungeons & Dragons campaign. I was shocked to learn that our last play session was more than a year ago. I knew it had been quite a long time, but that’s epic-level procrastination on my part.

We’d left our heroes in the middle of their trek to the tower of the wizard knows as Mad Mungus. Thought to have been long-abandoned, the crooked structure recently had shown signs of life. A hooded figure claiming to be the wizard’s servant showed up in the town of Boswin. Days later, a weird river beast rampaged down the docks. Some speculated that the mutated creature had swum downstream from Mungus’ old abode.

I picked up things with the party finally nearing the tower. In a forest clearing, the adventurers were attacked by stirges: bat/bird/mosquito things with a taste for the red, sticky stuff!

The flying suckers weren’t the true threat, though. That came in the form of the dreaded “land shark” which had been attracted from underground by the vibrations of the battle above. Better known as the bulette, this burrowing behemoth was once famously described as “the result of a mad wizard’s experimental cross breeding of a snapping turtle and armadillo with infusions of demons’ ichor.”

Slaying the predators, the group settled down for the night. Their sleep was interrupted by a host of unusually friendly bullywugs, who invited them to their village of Frogton. Rip Reeep, chief of Frogton, told them that their own community had been attacked by a creature much like the one that had been seen in Boswin.

Avoiding the front door of Mungus’ tower, the heroes instead looked for the underwater waste pipe from which the river freak had emerged. They emerged in a refuse room off a main hallway. The corridor was lined with a series of elaborate stone arches, one of which had apparently collapsed on the head of a previous dungeon diver. While wary of the apparently trapped hall, they greedily picked up the gold coins which had fallen from the dead fighter’s purse.

Unfortunately, one of the coins was attached to a wire! The section of corridor upon which the party stood abruptly slanted at a steep angle, while oil sprayed from a concealed spigot. One of them became a helpless victim of the slick chute, traveling several hundred feet underground in seconds. And below, a hungry owlbear* awaited.

Rather than see their wizard pecked to death, the others voluntarily slid down the chute. The battle was long, bloody and punctuated by angry hooting.

We left things there, with the party stranded deep below the tower. With no obvious way out, who knows what mysteries and horrors await?

Well, I do.

*The owlbear was originally said to have been “probably the result of genetic experimentation by some insane wizard**.”

**It’s just possible that there’s a theme at work.

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