Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Castle Mordha: the end of the 12th Age

Back in 1984 I started my first real D&D Campaign -  The Shankill Isles:

A peninsula where each island had a slightly different culture, dungeons and problems, with the PCs living the island city state of Shankill, a major port city on the largest island. While everyone lost a few PCs early on Jesse, Mike and Steve got PCs up to 3rd level and with that increased durability their triumvirate of the paladin Cathoris of Haven, the magic user Elf (he never shared his name for mysterious reasons) and the monk Rasputin became the core of the party. Johnathan played a succession of ill-omened fighters, Peter had a cleric (until he switched to a psionicist due on a Dragon Magazine article that no one ever entirely understood) and Greg was playing a fighter not because he wanted to but because he wanted to have a bard and in AD&D that required 5+ levels of fighter and 5+ levels of thief, so he was slogging through those on the weeks he made it to play. Alas, PCs names escape me in my dotage.

The group had some fun: They dealt with a Sumatran rat plague and the undead spawning it. They cleared an island of giant ants and ankhegs that were devouring the livestock of a new colony. They tackled a vast slave trading consortium from the TSR Slavers modules and my own design (cribbed from the Guardians of the Flame books). I discovered that players really, really, hate having their stuff taken away from them at the start of module A4. They worked their way through part of White Plume Mountain, secured Blackrazor and then went home, only to lose the sword shortly thereafter when Cathoris determined it was very truly evil and threw it into… something. The sea? A volcano? I don’t recall.

Cathoris hunted and slew a dragon that had been menacing trade routes but then had to hand the horde over to a clan of dwarves that claimed it was theirs, leading to Jesse’s refrain of ‘short little ugly little greedy little stupid little…’ muttered under his breath whenever dwarves turned up. Mike insisted that Elf also wanted to be a Bard but couldn’t due to race restrictions on the class, and so he content himself with making up self-aggrandizing ditties on his ukulele. (“Elf is back and he’s better than before! Hey la, hey la Might Elf! With spells and power and magical lore! Hey la, hey la, Mighty Elf! Hey, what a great and powerful guy, yeah, he can touch the sky! Hey la, hey la, Mighty Elf!”) Rasputin had several run ins with an evil monk leading to a three part macguffin quest across the islands – I’d like to think we had the good sense to make John’s fighter a sailor for some spotlight time, and we might have, but I really don’t recall – that culminated in a spiral mountain dungeon containing an artifact gemstone that took over Rasputin’s body, leading to an epic Paladin vs. Monk battle to free Rasputin’s soul.

One stop on the MacGuffin quest was a Drow Giant tree Fortress (also from Dragon Magazine) which they survived by holing up in a storeroom to have Peter’s psionicist heal everyone, then foray out, kill stuff, run back and repeat. That got them into contact with the Drow, which led to the players insisting I run the Drow modules, which I had just purchased. We got a little bit into D1 but no one really wanted to do the logistics that went with such an expedition, so they made some tentative raids into the underdark and then pulled back. Jesse told me later he really wanted to finish the series but I don’t remember ever actually running it. I do remember running D1 on the back porch at Steve’s house and them facing one of those floating eye spores and not getting much further. Everyone preferred shorter adventures that worked for days people couldn’t make it, so I developed more ruins, lairs and evil towns/slaver outposts for them to battle.

The last thing I remember running for those characters was Tomb of Horrors. As with the Drow module the players found out I owned it and insisted on tackling it. Greg’s PC, who had made it to Fighter 6/Thief 5 I think and was in spitting distance of his goal of Bard-dom, stepped on a pit trap 70 feet in, fell onto poisoned spikes, missed his save three times and was stone dead 10 minutes into the module. Again, I’d like to say we elevated one of the henchmen to PC status and got Greg back in the game but no, he was upstairs reading and playing computer games for the rest of the night. 25+ years on and I still feel guilty about that.

Anyway, the other PCs dragged his body out, stripped it of key magic they might need and left it with some henchmen for revivifying later. One ‘borrowed’ magic item was Greg’s sword which, unbeknownst to him, was a Luck Blade with one wish left. Cathoris had it slung over his back in case something happened to his own weapon. The group hacked, schemed and spelled their way through to the false lich/actual mummy chamber with its illusionary earthquake. During the course of things Cathoris’ shield had been eaten by acid so he was fighting two weapon style, holy sword in one hand and the luck blade in the other. Seeing how bad things looked Jesse/Cathoris said “I wish we were at the end of this!”


And there they were in Acereak’s chambers, facing the soul-eating floating skull, trying to find some way to kill it. Johnathan’s fighter (he was on his 3rd or 4th for the campaign, or perhaps had been resurrected a few times, or both) was quickly dispatched, and Pete’s psionicsit/cleric followed. Cathoris managed to resist the effect once, but everyone knew time was against them. Their salvation came from a historical oddity: Rasputin, having been nearly consumed by a soul sucking gem once in the past, was now immune to such attacks. It said so right on his character sheet from something that happened a year before I even read Tomb of Horrors! That protection gave them just enough time and wherewithal for Rasputin, Cathoris and Elf to triumph and shatter Acereak’s skull, banishing the deli-lich’s spirit.

With two of the regular PCs permanently dead, all of Cathoris’ equipment disintegrated, Elf at the elven Magic-User level cap and Greg just a little peeved that his gear got to save the day when he was upstairs bored, I decided it was a good time to end the campaign. The players agreed. Cathoris used a share of the treasure to pay for reviving Greg’s PC, gave the rest to him to found a bards college and then retired with Rasputin to that worthy’s monastery (claiming he was dressed only in the magic scrolls recovered from the tomb wrapped around him as a loincloth) and Elf sailing off for the “Elf lands far away”, having earned his place among them.

I don’t recall Greg, Peter or Johnathan playing D&D after that. The next set of adventurers in Shankill was to be very different.

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