So… This Happened

Over the past few weeks, we have been playing a D&D campaign on Tuesday nights (running through the Drow War campaign) and yesterday… well, the train did not come off the tracks, but it certainly leaned over onto just one set of wheels.

Towards the end of the night, I had to read this description out to one of the players who was the last to enter a room (just a bedroom in a derelict shop):

“Okay, you step into the room, ignoring the flames building up behind you. The floor is covered with many fine gowns that have been thrown carelessly aside. There is a nest of red and purple cloth in the corner where James is lying – he is very, very pale and not moving. A ten year old boy is in one corner, his distraught cries muffled by the octopus wrapped around his head. Amy is in pitched battle with a ten year old girl who has blood running down from her mouth. Meanwhile, Andy is behind Amy and looks like he is about to slice her in half with his sword. Ed has rats scampering up his robes. Oh, and there is another octopus on the floor, gasping for breath.”

The problem was, the party had split itself up.

Three of them had got hammered the night before and woke up late, so the other two went off into the city to go shopping and attend to errands. The hung over guys woke up at different times and so when the tavern’s owner asked them to sort out his rat problem, only two of them felt up to the task.

They delved around the cellars and found two ten year old children – who were actually vampires. It took the kids all of ten seconds to completely dominate both of them, and so the feeding commenced (constant CON loss).

The others were really slow in getting back to the tavern (or waking up, for that matter), and it took them longer to figure out where the other two had gone – when they found them, one of the dominated adventurers managed to hold them up even longer as he tried to get rid of them (under the direction of the little girl).

A fight finally broke out, though one of the adventurers had been completely drained of blood (and it will be fun to see what happens to him next session), and the others realised that even ten year olds are really hard when they are also vampires – they twigged they might have to adjust their tactics when the little girl caught the Barbarian’s greatsword with her hand.

The Druid and Bard came to the rescue, distracting one of the vampires by summoning an octopus over his head and watching it grapple him (the other octopus missed the girl as it fell).

A tough battle over all, and ‘this’ close to a TPK.

Next week, they will be dealing with a Green Hag in a city grove, before we can get back to the main part of the campaign…

 

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Going Up The Garden Path

Here is an interesting little something I acquired of late – an old D&D module, ST1: Up the Garden Path.

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This module has a bit of a history. It was sold at just two events in 1986, the National Garden Festival, and Games Day (the original Games Day, when it was an RPG-based convention held at the Royal Horticultural Society Hall in London.

Now, I actually attended that Games Day and yes, I picked up a copy of Up the Garden Path. However, I sold it in my teenage years (for about £15!), so was quite excited to be able to grab another.

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What makes this module interesting, not to mention highly collectible is not only was it only sold at those two events, but it had a very small print run, maybe less than 600 copies. One of the authors (Graeme Morris) believed that only 100-200 copies were sold at the events combined.

How many exist today? Well, nobody knows. There have been suggestions that maybe only 50-odd are still about, and I have heard (probably false) claims that there are only 14.

If the lower limit is true, however, I am always on the look out for the other ten!

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So, is it any good?

Well, it probably isn’t going to be the essential part of any campaign. It uses an actual map of the National Garden Festival, and the basic plot is that the players are transported to this pocket universe that threatens the existence of all other universes. To close it, they have to explore and locate a bunch of things that are contradictory (things like water birds, wooden magnets and a square wheel, and bring them to a partial Quirk.

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Overall, I would class it as fun but silly. Or silly but fun.

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ST1 consists of a wraparound cover with a full colour interior (the map of the festival), and the 16 page adventure. Three new monsters are added; IffanbutT (a Probability Elemental), Shadow Wolf, and Snap Dragon.

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Is it worth anything?

Probably.

It has been a long time since I saw one of these pop up eBay (not that I look very often, admittedly), but maybe to the right person it would be worth a couple of thousand Dollars – I have seen asking prices of £5,000 from collectors, but I am pretty sure they would not get them.

Anyway, I would consider these as part of my retirement plan!

 

Pirates of Drinax – the Pirate World of Theev

When we last left our intrepid Travellers, they had just touched down on the pirate world of Theev – and, it has to be said, they were very conscious that their reputations might not be all they desired, as they had yet to do any real pirating (on the way, they had bullied a small trader into jettisoning cargo containers, but the haul had been small)!

They quickly realised that, for a price, just about anything could be purchased in the city of Blacksand, so they immediately scattered to pick up some choice bits and pieces – everything from new portable computers and breaching charges to high-powered rifles and a little medical tourism that involved subdermal armour for the Aslan bodyguard.

Finally, with Krrsh’s help, they got back on course and started asking around for Redthane’s lieutenant, Silverhand. This involved lots of cocktails with little umbrellas for the youngest Vargr (it was happy hour) and a fair amount of gambling on death matches for the rest. The captain, in particular, managed to win a substantial amount of Credits but he had, unfortunately, already been marked upon arrival – the Travellers’ ship, the Baldrick, was old but potent and a gang of thieves decided it would make for a good target. When the captain left the rest of the party, they managed to kidnap him, and tried to get him to unlock the ship so they could steal it. During this process, they discovered his winnings (which were pinched) and his comms unit (which was smashed).

Fortunately, the pilot had stayed on board the ship and (eventually) noticed what was going on outside. Between her and the captain, a rescue was affected and the thieves scattered.

However, now the captain was mad. The quest took something of a detour as he ordered the rest of the Travellers to scour the city for the thieves who had taken his winnings. The thieves realised they might very well be in trouble and so started to make plans of their own – however, one was gunned down in the middle of the street after he had tried to return home to pick up his favourite shotgun, and another was captured and put into the Baldrick’s low berths.

While the captain was focussed on finding the leader of the thieves (and his money), some of the other Travellers had started poking around for Silverhand, and eventually discovered that she was holed up in the Scrapyard, an area of derelict ships just outside the city of Blacksand.

They all reunited and started to scour the Scrapyard, eventually coming across a makeshift fortress of wrecked ships that had been welded together. The Aslan bodyguard was the first to enter, and the first to encounter Silverhand – who had realised she had intruders and intended to finish them off with a rapid-firing machinegun (a new item in the forthcoming Central Supply Catalogue). With a long corridor to defend, Silverhand managed to pin down the entire party until one, a retired Army major simply strolled out into the middle of the corridor and nailed her with one shot from his high-powered laser rifle.

The Travellers rushed to Silverhand, and started enacting first aid to save her (in order to gain information on Redthane). That did not go so well, so the party medic announced he would start performing surgery…

The trouble was, he was not a real surgeon (he had seen a few vids on medical procedures once), and the environment was filthy. It soon became clear that his surgical efforts were making the patient worse.

Frankly, it would have been a cleaner death for Silverhand if he had used a chainsaw…

Despite the death, the Travellers managed to find the information they needed on Redthane on Silverhand’s datapad – he had taken to hiding on the fourth moon of the gas giant in the Palindrome system, a place they had visited on their way to Theev. In fact, they had refuelled at the gas giant, and so had already been within a stone’s throw away from their target. Which was annoying for them.

After a last look around for the thieves, they left Theev and made for Palindrome. They tried sneaking up on the fourth moon, but Redthane was watching them approach and, as they got closer, his ship rocketed up from the surface of the moon as he tried to escape.

However, the Baldrick was extremely fast (6G thrust!), and the pirate was quickly overhauled. Redthane refused to surrender, however, and went down shooting – while the Baldrick’s particle barbette seriously outgunned the little Far Trader, Redthane managed to get a few hits in, damage that would be costly for the Travellers to fix later. The final result was inevitable though, and the Far Trader broke up in space, leaving the Travellers to sift through the wreckage to find Redthane’s body, so the bounty could be claimed.

After refuelling once more, the Travellers plotted a path back to Torpol and Clarke so they could (finally) see some real money. However, they figured they could probably do a little pirating on the way to bump the profit margins up a little…

Pirates of Drinax – First Steps

Within Mongoose Publishing, we are currently working on (among many other things!) a revision of the Pirates of Drinax epic campaign. We steadily released this campaign in parts (for free!) over the past couple of years or so but, with the new edition of Traveller now out, we wanted to do something a little bit special.

So, later this year, expect to see a nice big double-hardback set in slipcase, with big poster map and lots of ebook support to further extend your adventures!

In preparation of this, I decided our RPG group should rattle through the campaign to help close up any holes and basically make sure players will have everything they need to hand in the commercial release.

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We started by rolling up characters, which is always a laugh in Traveller. Unlike many other games, in Traveller characters are rolled up as a group exercise, as the system gets you to ‘link’ to other players through various events in their history. The idea here is that, by the time you are ready to play, everyone in the party already knows each other – I often describe this as creating the crew of the Firefly, where everyone has some sort of history that is primed and ready to go.

That done, the Travellers started off in the floating city on the blasted world of Drinax, with an offer from King Oleb (think Brian Blessed in Flash Gordon); he will give them an old but highly advanced raiding ship, and the Travellers go off into the Trojan Reach to pirate Imperial and Aslan shipping, while building up resources that will allow Drinax to become a true empire. Simples.

The first debated started with the Travellers trying to come up with a name for their Harrier-class raider. This took some time but they finally settled upon the Balderick.

They then checked out the nearby systems and decided which one they would first jump to, lying in wait for a nice fat trader to board. To their credit, they also made plans as to whom would do what when they actually found a target (rather than employing their usual practice of figuring things out as they go along…).

However, they were interrupted by an automated message that had been left on their bridge by the Princess Rao. Pirates had attacked two nearby systems (Torpol and Clarke) and bounties had been posted – if the Travellers could run them down, they would earn the bounties but, more importantly, would start to influence these two worlds to be more receptive to Drinax. As it happened, the Travellers had chosen Torpol as their first target world, so were at least heading in the right direction.

Landing at Torpol, they scouted around the starport for information, which led to a punch up in a bar between the Travellers’ captain and a visiting sports team. Though outnumbered, the captain, along with his Aslan bodyguard, ‘dealt’ with the situation and when security arrived, took the opportunity to meet one of the administrators of the planet – a man only too pleased to get help tracking down the raiders.

The Travellers analysed the data collected from the attack and quickly deduced that the attacking ships had disguised themselves and fled to the Borite system. After quickly refuelling at the starport, the Travellers left Torpol and jumped to Borite.

A scan of the system located a faint distress beacon coming from an ancient (really ancient – it was nearly falling apart!) space station in orbit around the local gas giant. After (very carefully) docking, three of the Travellers entered the station and began exploring – starting off by splitting up and wandering off on their own…

Inevitably, one of the Travellers (the Aslan bodyguard) encountered the strange alien creature that had been lurking on the station (a Chamax that had been transported here, for you Traveller veterans) but after a brief though brutal fight, she managed to fend it off. Meanwhile, another of the Travellers had found a poor Vargr pirate – the captain of one of the raiders who had been abandoned by his crew after an unsuccessful attack after the raids the Travellers had already heard about.

The Vargr (named Krrsh) was pathetically grateful to the Travellers, and took a shine to the younger of the Vargr on their team. After being given food and rum, he happily told the Travellers that the attacks were led by a pirate captain called Redthane. He had no idea where Redthane was, but knew his lieutenant, a lady known as Silverhand, was on the pirate world of Theev. Krrsh would be willing to give the Travellers the codes needed to enter Theev space (as well as use the deep space refuelling point needed to get there), and would go on to serve on their crew (hoping to get another ship from them later on).

The deep space refuelling was hellishly expensive, as it turned out, but enabled the Traveller to get to Theev.

The session ended when they touched down on a world with a very low Law Level and very high Tech Level – always a good combination when you want to go shopping!

The Enemy Within – Death on the Reik Part Five

By this point, the players were feeling they had made some real progress, and were racing back up the River Reik to the observatory tower they had found earlier, this time with a magical key in hand.

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The players and characters were;

Ed – Thorgrim – Dwarf Scholar
Amy – Llewellyn – Wood Elf Wardancer
Andy – Thorn – Wood Elf Wizard
James – Deem – Dwarf Warrior
Alan – Yvette – Human Ranger

It was to not be quite as easy as that, at least for James.  The journey north would take the best part of two weeks, and the players were stopping at various riverside inns on the way, rather than anchoring their boat in the middle of the beastman-infested forest. Most stayed on the boat for the night (avoiding the charge for a room) but James insisted on visiting each one in the evening for a serious drinking session.

During one such stop, the barn staff gave gave James a note. Obviously from the ‘Inner Circle’, it demanded he (or, rather, Kastor, but that was rapidly becoming academic) pay 20,000 Gold Crowns immediately or else report back to Middenheim.

Interestingly, James did not bother to ask the bar staff who gave them the note, which must have somewhat mystified the three cultists sitting just across the bar room who were expecting a confrontation…

Andy also started a brief argument as their boat passed Castle Wittgenstein and its village, Wittgendorf, as he wanted to make a stop there. When asked why, his reasons flipped between ‘we can make lots of money trading there!’ and ‘it might be really interesting!’. However, last time they had come this way, they had met another boat which had just pulled a hideous mutant out of the water very close to the castle. Not wanting to complicate their lives (and not wanting to indulge Andy), they carried on.

When they finally got to the old observatory (now a fully functioning signal tower, vital to the security of the Empire), the players discovered the dwarf workers had left and had now been replaced by members of the Reiksguard. They figured (correctly, as it happened) that the soldiers would not simply let them waltz in and dig around for secret doors, and so a quick plan that relied on stealth was enacted upon.

Unfortunately, few members of the party were actually good at stealth, and those that were rolled terribly. The alert went up, and they were forced to retreat.

After a few probing approaches, the players managed to gain entrance through a method which involved Andy casting a sleep spell on one of the soldiers. Just to make sure the soldier’s life was completely ruined, he poured beer over the helpless man and left the empty bottle nearby, ready to be discovered by his sergeant…

Meanwhile, the other players had made their way to the secret area of the tower, and discovered a hidden library. The announcement that books had been found had Andy racing back to them as quickly as he could manage. Unfortunately form him, there were no necromantic tomes to be found.

However, Ed’s skills as a scholar came to the fore as he translated a few books that had been left open. They managed to piece together that an asteroid from Morrsleib had crashed in the Barren Hills (forming the crater they had seen) and had been found by one Dagmar von Wittgenstein. Furthermore, it appeared to be a very large rock of pure warpstone.

The reactions of the players varied. Most immediately decided that a piece of warpstone that large had to be found and dealt with. Andy started wondering how it would improve his magical skills if it were in his possession…

Anyway, all these clues pointed to the stone being hidden in a reinforced chamber beneath Castle Wittgenstein.

The players gathered their belongings, and prepared to head back south.

Note: It should be pointed out that these players have had some spectacularly bad luck in the past when it comes to castles. The most famous incident was the basic D&D Module, B12 Queen’s Harvest, a short, 16 page introductory adventure that most 12 year olds would complete in an evening. It took them six weeks to get into the castle. That is not six weeks of game time, mind – I mean six weeks of real time.

Thus, they were not looking forward to the possibility of assaulting another fortress, especially one in a game far more deadly then D&D…

The Enemy Within – Death on the Reik Part Four

When we last left the intrepid adventurers, they were hot on the tail of an evil wizard, and had butchered an entire tribe of goblins.

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The players and characters were;

Ed – Thorgrim – Dwarf Scholar
Amy – Llewellyn – Wood Elf Wardancer
Andy – Thorn – Wood Elf Wizard
James – Deem – Dwarf Warrior
Alan – Yvette – Human Ranger

Needing to get to an unknown location within the Barren Hills for the next stage of the adventure, the players travelled back to Kemperbad. Along the way, they finally realised they would never make any real money by trading, and finally unloaded the timber they had been carrying in their hold since they left Altdorf many moons previous. Amy, as chief pilot of the boat, had not really improved her skill at controlling it (unfortunately, she remained the best qualified…). This would come to a real head, as the journey from Kemperbad to the Barren Hills was all upstream and would involve rapids.

Needless to say, the boat received some real knocks on this journey which would require some serious repairs on the way back.

Further up the river, there was a twin waterfall which, to be negotiated, required travelling up a side channel comprising of twenty separate locks. As each lock required its own boathandling check, Amy was a bit dubious about continuing.

Fortunately, the players were flagged down by two washerwomen, who invited them back to their village, Unterbaum, just a short trip up through a tunnel next to the falls.

Unterbaum turned out to be a really tiny village deep in the forest (by this time, the players were far from real civilisation), but the people were welcoming enough, eagerly trying to get the players to buy turnips (they refused, but when one of them suggested they could buy rations here, they ended up with an entire cart full of turnips…).

They were introduced to the village elder and the village druid. While Alan quizzed the two of them on the whereabouts of a mysterious noblewoman who they said had passed through recently, the rest of the players were trying to work out why Alan was not talking career options with the druid, as he had said repeatedly that this was the direction he wanted to go in (as it turned out, he had changed his aspirations to Targeteer).

The druid explained that the woman had insisted on going to the Devil’s Bowl, but suggested they did not follow as it was a very dangerous place. Seeing they could not be dissuaded, he offered to go with them, as he needed some herbs that could only be found in that area.

They spent the night at Unterbaum, with Ed and James both enjoying the village’s cider so much, they were carrying a keg each away with them in the morning.

The druid explained that (much to Amy’s relief) they could not take their boat upstream as it was too shallow, but the village had canoes. After a brief argument about who was going to share which canoe, they were all set to start a journey that would take three days.

On the third day, as night began to fall, they reached the Devil’s Bowl, a water-filled crater surrounded by a stone circle. As they set up camp, an eerie blue mist formed over the crater and they watched as a ghostly woman approached, begging for their help. The ghost turned and floated away, leaving the players with few choices but to follow.

She took them to a hidden cave, where they quickly found her grave. As they debated the best way to lay the bones to rest (which encompassed suggestions ranging from taking them back to Kemperbad and a Temple of Morr, to just throwing them in the river), a group of Skaven appeared. They demanded to know where a stone was (the players having no clue at that point what it was they were trying to find), but negotiations quickly broke down when Amy let loose a scream and attacked.

Though the leader of the Skaven managed to last two entire rounds against Amy, the rats were soon defeated. The players poked around the cave, and found another chamber that had been blocked off by a cave-in. They could hear scratching on the other side, and so as James and Ed started to remove stones, the rest prepared to fight more Skaven.

They were therefore a little surprised when an animated skeleton clawed its way out and attacked – even more so, when it thanked them for destroying it (it had been part of the same expedition as the ghostly woman, and they all wanted a bit of peace in death). More skeletons clawed their way out, but the players were able to deal with them one by one.

When the fighting stopped and quiet returned, the players poked around in the chamber beyond the cave-in. It was there they found a fair bit of gold, along with a very familiar looking metal bar – identical to those James was still wearing round his neck.

Realising they had found the last key required to open the secret area in the observatory tower, the players left with all haste to get back to their boat for the return journey north.

Note: The evil wizard, Etelka, was very much doing her own thing at this point and was working to a timeline printed in the adventure – the players, through sheer bad/good luck managed to miss her throughout the adventure, and she remains at large.

The Enemy Within – Death on the Reik Part Three

After messing around with the Wood Elves, with varying degrees of success, the players continued their journey southwards down the River Reik.

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The players and characters were;

Ed – Thorgrim – Dwarf Scholar
Amy – Llewellyn – Wood Elf Wardancer
Andy – Thorn – Wood Elf Wizard
James – Deem – Dwarf Warrior
Alan – Yvette – Human Ranger

They stopped off briefly at Kemperbad, doing a little trading along the way. James went on a one-dwarf quest to find someone who could make him a stone door for his cabin on the boat (the result of the ‘pee in the bed’ incident earlier) but while he was unsuccessful, he was very much aware someone or someones were following him. In the midst of a tight crowd, he felt a pinch about his head, but his assailant disappeared before he could react (Initiative 15 has its price). He quickly realised someone had stolen a lock of hair.

A little later, James was approached by a man addressing him as Kastor (the name of the dwarf James had taken the identity of), demanding that James pay the Inner Circle (whatever that was) what he owed. At this point, James was a little mystified as to what was going on, but was convinced it could not be good.

Still, the party had work to do – they were following a lead that suggested an evil wizard called Etelka Hertzen was up to no good further south in Grissenwald. It took them a week more to get there (bypassing Castle Wittgenstein on the way, after hearing lots of stories about Bad Things happening there), but they finally reached the small mining settlement. Their first port of call was the tavern (obviously) but while asking around about Etelka, a couple of drunk dwarfs wandered in and started insulting the elves (‘Oi! Wing Nut!’). James and Ed did not see any issues with this, but the elves started taking exception but had the presence of mind to get the watch involved rather than starting a fight.

They discovered that the dwarfs had been raiding farms and burning them, and that Etelka was  a very nice noblewoman who had not been seen recently, but had a house a few miles away, next to an abandoned mine. Thus informed, the players set off, completely ignoring the dwarf shanty town outside Grissenwald and any possible leads that lay there.

Still, that meant they also missed out on a bucket load of XP!

Marching through the woods on their way to Etelka’s home, the players came across burned out farms and, upon rooting around in the ruins, discovered a few arrows they thought to be of goblin manufacture. Hmm…

The next farm was intact but they came under a hail of arrow fire as they approached. Alan managed to convince the family cowering inside that they were not there to pillage, though he could not persuade them that Ed and James were not about to attack.

As the sun began to dip towards the horizon, they came out of the woods and found a two storey tower next to a mine – Etelka’s home, they presumed. Under the cover of daylight (yeah, I know), they decided to infiltrate the tower, and ran straight into a small tribe of goblins and their pet wolves.

It was a major battle.

They burst into the main hall and managed to nobble most of the wolves and sleeping goblins there before meeting solid resistance. Goblin spearmen blocked the stairs running upwards, holding the players firm while archers around the balcony let fly with their arrows.

Andy tried to break the deadlock by unleashing a mighty fireball at the archers, but managed to get nothing more than a faint fizz of light (as it turned out, he had misread the fireball spell and not added its base Strength – after this point his fireballs got a little more mighty, but it would not be the last time something like this happened…).

It fell to Amy and, eager to try out her new Wardancer skills for real, she bounded up the stairs with a shriek that paralysed the goblin spearmen with fear, leapt over their heads, and started hacking them apart from behind. James followed up behind while Alan kept the heads of the archers down with his own return fire.

A number of things happened then.

Andy tried to make himself as small as possible, as a few of the goblin arrows had come a little too close for comfort. Amy was keening away, tearing apart goblins while James just hoped there might be a few left for him. Ed, on the other hand…

Well, Ed had seen the chance to use a blunderbuss he had purchased from Kemperbad. The trouble is, he did not actually know anything about using a blunderbuss. He promptly rolled a misfire, rolled on the table to see what happened, and got 00.

Boom.

The resulting explosion wrecked the blunderbuss (which was what annoyed Ed most about this incident) and dealt a fair bit of damage to him, Alan and Andy, who were not best happy with the result.

Meanwhile, upstairs the goblin spearmen had been dealt with and Amy and James prepared to attack the archers who were still plugging away at the players below them. At that point, a new goblin appeared – one wearing a dress and tiara. He gestured at Amy, mumbled some gobbledegook, then looked perplexed when nothing happened (he was trying to cast a spell, but knew as much about magic as Ed did about gunpowder). As Amy stalked towards him, swords drawn and dripping with goblin blood, he tried to bargain with her, saying everything was a mistake, nothing was his fault, and if she just let him go, they would say no more about it.

Amy stabbed him, then finished off the archers.

As the dust settled, the players did a quick inventory of the tower. Andy quickly identified that the shield the goblin ‘shaman’ had been carrying was magical, and then decided to keep that knowledge (and the shield) to himself. They discovered some hostages; a farmer, his wife and Etelka’s halfling cook, who had been having some real issues about the goblins taking over at his mistress’ invitation. The halfling told the players that Etelka was not there and had gone up ‘Norn’s River to get some bare pills.’

That clue went straight over their heads, and no one even thought to look at the map to see if there was a Norn’s River (there wasn’t, but there was a Narn River, which led straight to the Barren Hills – do you see? They didn’t).

Fortunately, in the study they did find a letter written to Etelka from one Istak Graksk Tzeentch (I swear to all that is holy, they actually missed the significance of his last name), outlining an expedition to the Barren Hills.

So, they had a target for their next adventure.

There was just time for one final argument. Andy had found a room containing a stuffed bear and a stuffed crocodile. He wanted to take them both (or, failing that, just the bear) back to the boat so he could… well, actually he was not too clear about just why he wanted these stuffed animals, other than they might make his cabin look good.

However, the other players had found a huge chest full of coins which, needing two to carry, were far more interested in taking back with them. Andy begged James to help him carry the bear. James said no. Andy suggested he pull the stuffing out of the bear and fill it with the coins. The whole party said no. Andy asked if anyone knew how to take the wheels off the mining cart outside and attach them to the bear so he could wheel it back to the boat. No one answered.

They spent the night in the tower and, at first light, departed for Grissenwald and their boat.

The bear and the crocodile remained behind.