Thursday 29 December 2011

Lost in the Labyrinth: Brugg Na Brogg

"What yoo lookin' at, Hooman?"
Brugg really needs to be an Elite. Given his role, he's likely to end up getting in the faces of most parties, but as written he doesn't really pack a punch at all - he's just a bog-standard ogre. I'm glad my group never faced him in combat, as they'd have flattened him in seconds. The Brugg you see below uses Monster Manual III maths, with a few custom power combinations I've had fun with before. His goblin lickspittles are inspired by the blue thieves from the Golden Axe video game: whack them, and they'll drop coins. Here though, that property comes with a nasty twist...

As can be seen from the flavour text, Brugg has a bit of an inflated ego - and a soft spot for pretty girls. When we played, we had a lot of fun with Brugg's leering approaches, his bride-to-be's attempts to delay their marriage, and the clever way she turned him against the mages. Hopefully you'll have similar fun if you use him as such in your games. Should it come to blows, Brugg and his six goblin lickspittles equate to a level eight encounter for five players: a suitably tough fight for this adventure.


The hulking ogre Brugg Na Brogg works as head enforcer and master tax collector for the Mages of Saruun. Accompanied by his scampering tide of goblin lickspittles, Brugg is a hated figure within the Seven-Pillared Hall. Those who dare call him “two bites”, as he always takes two cuts of every profit: one for the Mages, and another, smaller cut for himself.  When accompanied by the masked Ordinator Arcanis, such hatred turns to dread, for this means that Brugg has been ordered to kill, and someone shall soon pay ultimate price for defying the Mages of Saruun.    

Brugg is more intelligent than your average ogre, and years of collecting taxes have earned him a measure of street smarts. In fact, Brugg’s status, and the trust the Mages supposedly invest in him, has given him a warped, elevated sense of self worth. Brugg believes he is the “Hero under the Mountain”, and as befits a hero, he requires the finest foods, lodgings, silken sheets for his cot – and a beautiful bride. In this last respect he has yet to find a suitable candidate, so any pretty female who enters the Hall may find themselves on the wrong end of his amorous approaches.

Thankfully, Brugg isn't looking for a breeding partner. Instead, his lover is required to wash him, comb his knotted hair, and swoon over him in public. Brugg is amenable about the terms of their arrangement, but only to a point: for example, his bride may be granted some time to herself, or can perhaps buy her way out of certain responsibilities, but defy him and he’s liable to bite her head off.  Even so, those looking for protection within the Hall, or hoping to spy on the Mages, could find the partnership advantageous… 

Brugg's lickspittles are also an oddity. Whereas most goblins can't count above three (with anything above that just being "many"), these inbreeds possess an uncanny ability to count coins. Fill their hands with gold, or scatter silver on the floor before them, and they'll value it in a heartbeat. Brugg uses them to verify payments and carry the loot back to his customhouse. For their own part, the goblins despise him, but are too afraid to show defiance: when Brugg acquired them, he made a show of eating their seventh brother in front of them as a warning. 

Monday 26 December 2011

Loot, glorious loot!

Ooo, look! This pic is a sneak preview from "Halls of the Dead King",
Beholder Pie's first free adventure. More on that in the New Year! 
Come in, sit down, and help yourself to a glass of mulled wine. I'm taking a break from my "Lost in the Labyrinth" articles to make a contribution to the blog carnival over on Daily Encounter. They're hosting a series of articles on loot, so here's hoping they'll pick up on the article below and copy it over. At least, I think that's how it works. I'm new here.

So, without further ado:

“There comes a time, thief, when the jewels cease to sparkle, when the gold loses its luster, when the throne room becomes a prison, and all that is left is a father’s love for his child.”
King Osric, Conan the Barbarian (1982)

What adventurer does not dream of the glittering treasure hoard of the dragon? Piles of gold, jewels, and enchanted items:  the lost relics of ages long forgotten.  It’s not for nothing that such an image currently sits on the cover of the Dungeon Master’s Guide.

Yet it’s interesting to note that in history as in legend, treasure often means more than just gold. In ancient Britain, kings and chieftains would commission fine jewellery from the Mediterranean, to be worn as a display of wealth, status and majesty – even carried to the grave.  In Rome, rings were worn to denote rank, with sumptuary laws dictating the metals you were entitled to wear. Other cultures bind their faith into precious metals and stones. In Islam, for example, it’s considered taboo for men to wear gold. In short, for as long as treasures have been crafted, people have ascribed meaning to them.  

In our games, such wondrous relics most often end up as plain old loot: “fluffy currency”, if you like. Players have been conditioned into dividing their treasure into just two categories: magic items and bankable loot (which most often goes towards buying more magic items).

DM: “You hold a set of jewelled nesting dolls, each crafted in the image of the goddess Erathis, one made of jade, another of ivory, and a third made of onyx”.
Player: “Nice. How much are they worth?”
DM: “As a set, about five thousand”.
Player: “Sooo... shall I just add that in gold to the treasure sheet?”

We need to stop treating treasures as fluffy currency, and start viewing them as an opportunity for story.  Let’s take The Hobbit as an example: whilst the book introduces magical treasures like the One Ring, Sting and Glamdring, ultimately it’s the Arkenstone that drives the story. This vast gemstone means more to Thorin than mere wealth: it represents heritage. It’s an heirloom, a symbol of office for the King under the Mountain, and Thorin will do anything to recover it.

The following tables are intended to get you thinking about treasure as an engine for story. Once you’ve rolled to determine your treasure, roll again for a hook, and then for a benefit. If we’re lucky, adding properties like these to our treasures will encourage our players to treat them as more than just cash stamps.

Thursday 8 December 2011

Lost in the Labyrinth: Surina

My motivation for redesigning Surina and Darkseeker was to give them powers that accentuate a defining trait. Darkseeker's a werewolf, so he gets lupine powers. Mezzothraxia's presence on the battle map reminds us that Surina's made an infernal pact.

Focussing characters around a single mannerism, talent or "schtick" is something I picked up from work. When I write a bio now, I always start with something like "Noah, the Nervous Professor". That way our artists have a strong theme to work around. Add too many traits beneath that header, and the concept can get muddied.

When designing NPCs, try gearing powers around their schtick. If they're cowardly, give them a power that makes them retreat when certain triggers occur. If they're brash, it keys off overwhelming odds. Determine what makes them different, and then bring that out on the table. Guaranteed, your characters will be more memorable. 


The Seven-Pillared Hall is loud with whispers. Grimmerzhul spies wrest knowledge from their Deepgem rivals, while House Azaer and the Mages of Saruun speculate in secret on the Underdark markets. To prosper, one must learn to pan truth from a river of rumours. In this matter, nobody is more valued than Surina of the Guttering Flame.

Surina operates as a knowledge broker, moving like a wraith from the Taphouse to the Halfmoon Inn, and through all the stalls between. What she doesn't learn first-hand comes to her from others. Guildsmen trade rumours with her like-for-like, and beggars bring her scraps to mull on. For the broker, the returns are worth more than the expense. These days the Grimmerzhuls come to her first, as do the Azaers. A single, well-placed lie, and they'll turn against each other like dogs... 

Surina's Secret
Unknown to the denizens of the labyrinth, Surina heads the Guttering Flame, a militant splinter of the church of Erathis. To the Flame, the Underdark represents a hand poised beside the candle of civilisation, ready to snuff it out at a moment's notice. Those who deal with the darkness invite oblivion, and must be destroyed. Having infiltrated the Seven-Pillared Hall with her brethren - a half-dozen cultists posing as beggars and market traders - Surina is playing the long con. She's worked her way into a position of influence, and now hopes to bring down the Hall by seeding a war between the dealers. She's gambled everything on this - even her own immortal soul. Her daring pact with Asmodeus has brought more than power; it's given her the perfect cover. With her hated imp on her shoulder, even the traitorous Drow trust her.

Only the Mages of Saruun remain inscrutable. Surina cannot advance her plans until she knows their weaknesses, and she'll do almost anything to find out what they are. If the PCs have an opportunity to move against the mages, Surina joins them in a heartbeat.

Introducing Surina
When Surina hears of their arrival she makes it her business to learn everything she can about the PCs. If their objectives are just, she may even approach them with an offer of aid. Surina makes a powerful but dangerous ally: few know better how to wring the hall's secrets, but cross her and she'll make their stay very uncomfortable indeed.

Irrespective of any deal, the PCs can always call upon Surina's services as a knowledge broker. For a bag of 200 gold, she'll provide the answer to any one question: the location of the Bloodreaver's secret hideout, for example, or a backdoor into the Grimmerzhul trading post. For 10 gold, Surina can sell the PCs a rumour (roll a D10 and consult the table to the right). Whether these actually bear fruit is up to you.

Sunday 4 December 2011

Lost in the Labyrinth: Terrlen Darkseeker

H2: Thunderspire Labyrinth has been the best adventure so far for my group. I loved the Seven-Pillared Hall, its characters, the labyrinth that surrounded it, and the clash of cultures it suggested. This said, the adventure itself does require some tweaking.

"Lost in the Labyrinth" will be a short series of columns about improving the adventure. I'm going to take a closer look at some of the NPCs, examine the Seven-Pillared Hall in more detail, maybe even have a go at suggesting an alternate plot arc for the adventure.

We'll see what happens.

Nobody knows Saruun Khel better than Terrlen Darkseeker. For decades, this hard-faced hunter has earned his keep as a guide, leading caravans down to Silvershield hold, to the dark city of the Grimmerzhul, or anywhere between. His prices may be steep, but he's renowned. Those who travel beyond the safety of the Seven-Pillared Hall are always advised to speak to him first.

For 200 gold, Darkseeker can lead the PCs anywhere within the Labyrinth – even fight
alongside them. In keeping with the Companion Character rules from Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium, he should be controlled by one of the players during combat. Outside of combat, he remains under DM control.

Good luck getting more from him than business, though. Darkseeker comes across as a cold soul, always on edge, with a fire in his eyes. Before hiring him, players must swear to obey his rules: be silent, be alert, and never stray from his path. Defy him, and they’ll quickly find themselves alone in the dark...

Darkseeker's Secret
Those who follow Darkseeker risk more than they know. Two years ago, while exploring one of the labyrinth's many lost vaults, the hunter was subjected to a terrible curse. Darkseeker didn't know what had happened at first: all he knew is that for days afterwards he would awaken with blood on his hands, and hazy memories of violence. Now, at last, he understands.

Whenever Darkseeker ventures too close to the chamber, or the full moon shines upon the land above, he transforms into a frenzied werewolf (use the stat block from the Monster Vault). Over time, he's learned to control the curse as best he can, even exploit it. The turnskin venom that poisons his bolts is in fact his own saliva, and when he wishes, he can even force his own transformation. If he knows he's going to change beyond his will, Darkseeker wraps himself in silver chains until the fever has passed.

To uncover the curse, PCs may hear one too many stories about caravans lost in his care, or witness him surreptitiously licking his bolt-heads. He may refuse to work on the full moon, or refuse to venture anywhere near the chamber that cursed him. At worse, he may even transform in their presence.

If they prise the truth from him, Darkseeker will beg the PCs for help (see Echoes of Thunderspire Labyrinth, from Dungeon 156). Succeed in lifting the curse, and they'll have earned an ally for life.