Friday, 29 October 2021

Thoughts on L1 The Secret of Bone Hill


“Reality leaves a lot to the imagination.”
― John Lennon

“The possession of knowledge does not kill the sense of wonder and mystery.
There will always be more mystery.”
― Anais Nin

Danger lurks in the Lendore Isles. Bands of evil creatures prow the hills overlooking the town of Restenford, seeking unwary victims. Now you have come to this sleepy little village looking for adventure and excitement. You seek to fathom the unexplored reaches of Bone Hill and unlock the mysteries of Restenford.
[L1 The Secret of Bone Hill – 1]

What can be said about Len Lakofka’s debut module that has not already been said? Nothing, I expect. It’s a classic for those of us of a certain age. There are those who consider it a masterpiece now; regardless that it received mixed reviews when released (I wonder if those who panned it then dislike it still?), and probably still does. Its distinction is that it may be the first “sandbox” adventure. Some may give that nod to B2 The Keep on the Borderlands, or T1 The Village of Hommlet, but I would beg to differ. Borderlands has the potential to be one, but it is really just a dungeon crawl with a keep and a few overland encounters attached; just as Hommlet is fundamentally an urban crawl with overland encounters and a dungeon. Bone Hill has both in abundance, and then some.

I’ll pause here to admit many of my thoughts here have been heavily influenced by the those of a far more astute scholar than I, and I now find it impossible to extricate his from my own. He is best known for his blog Cave of the Dice Chucker, but in this case I would draw your attention to his other, The Restenford Project, specifically. What is the Restenford Project? It’s a deep dive into Len’s L-series, a fabulous read that I highly recommend to anyone who knows and loves Len’s module. I won’t be offended if you cease reading this humble work now in preference of his blogposts. I’ve only seen such attention to detail in regards to T1-4 The Temple of Elemental Evil.

Still with me? Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.
How big is the module?
28 pages; and about one hex. Yes, you read that right, one hex. 16 miles by 30.
28 pages was pretty standard then, but Len found a way to pack a whole lot into its meagre page count, detailing Restenford and its environs, if not Lendore Isle. He details its flora and fauna, its weather; he also gives us a Wilderness Encounter chart. And a rumour table. A fair bit has been buried in that rumour table, so if you have glossed over it, or dispensed with it altogether, you‘ve hamstrung what might be before you have even begun.
Why? Because Len goes so far as to give us the possibilities of who might know what, that’s why. 

Chance of Knowing the Number of Rumors Given

Character Level

1 rumor

2 rumors

3 rumors

4 rumors

5 rumors

































































The Baron-Champion, the Druid, the Sorceror, and the Canon in Restenford know one tale per level. The High Priest in the Church of the Big Gamble also knows one tale per level. The option to disclose a rumor is always up to the DM. A person might not tell everything he or she knows. [L1 – 2]

There are 36 rumours given—that’s a lot, by any measure — and Len encourages you as a DM to create even more as you see fit.
Why are the rumours important? Because some of them are lies, or at the very least untrue (not unusual in rumour tables). They are supposed to be rolled randomly, and if you do, it’s important to understand the implications of important NPCs relating those lies, or untruths, to the PCs. If they are, you had better have an inclination why they are. Are they lying? Are they themselves misinformed? Who might have misinformed them? That might be useful to know, if you want to have a deep, complex, backstory to underlie a deep, complex adventure. Therefore, you had better roll them up beforehand. That way you can work it all out; otherwise you might be fumbling for a reason that won’t satisfy your players; assuming you have players that care about such thing.
If you have a copy of the module, you might want to take it off the shelf and give them a read to familiarize yourself with them, and ponder them a moment.

Rumours aside for the moment, let’s see what Len packed into his 28 pages.
He’s detailed the surrounding hills, the eponymous Bone Hill among them (its “abandoned” keep and dungeon), the town, a burnt husk of an outlying guard house (and the dungeon beneath it), the keep (and Pelltar’s tower within), three faiths, a couple taverns, and a complete roster of inhabitants. Yes, all of the inhabitants.
Aside from the wandering monsters, there are orcs and bandits, and bugbears and gnolls in them there hills. And the obligatory new monsters.
That’s a tonne of content.
There is no secret, however. None noted, anyway, although there is plenty of grist for the mill in creating one.
Who burned the Guard Station [32], and when?
One should ask the same of the keep atop Bone Hill. What is its history? What brought on its doom? For surely something did, what with all the undead crawling over it. There are hints throughout, mere mentions that suggest quite a lot without committing to its true tale. The walls are collapsed, shattered by catapults. And although this happed some time ago, the remains of the catapults have not rotted away. Nor have the bones of elves and humans and bugbears. Have there been repeated battles for the keep over the centuries? Evil is drawn to the place, repeatedly, it would seem.
What might Telvar (6th level magic user) be up to there?
Telvar was an apprentice to an alchemist in his early youth and still enjoys experimenting with and mixing potions. [L1 – 10]
This room is used by Telvar for astrological observation. [L1 – 11]
And what sort of deal has he made with the bugbears? Come to think on it, why are there so many bugbears? Hobgoblins might make more sense (this being a low-level module), with a bunch of goblins and a few bugbears thrown in for good measure.
Are the gnolls in league with Telvar? Why won’t they go near the Dead Wood or the northern portion of Kelman Hills? What about the orc bandits? Are they in league with Telvar? Zahrdahl the Trickster?
Speaking of the orcs, did you notice this rumour when you read it?
The warehouse guard dropped dead a few days ago during a scuffle in the inn with two half-orcs, but I saw him that very night and the half-orcs were found burned to death at the edge of town. [L1 – 3]
This might be the most important rumour of the lot, because it’s true, and it’s cryptic, and what it implies.

I’ve dropped a few names. Maybe I should introduce the personae dramatis.
Altogether, there are 315 occupants of the town, most of which are human. [L1 – 16]
What are the people like? Mostly chaotic. Mostly neutral. There are very few evil. Most are farmers and bakers and fisherman and the like.
There are a number of note, dealt with below.

Baron Grellus
The Garrison/Castle
Grellus, male, 7th level fighter, AL CG
Rumour has it he’s broke. Rumour also has it that he is evil. One wonders why. Neither are true.
Fairwind, female, 3rd level cleric, AL LG; She is the wife of Grellus. [L2 – 11]
Andrella, female, 2nd level magic-user, AL LN; She is the daughter of Grellus and Fairwind. [L2 – 11]
Gelpas, male, 5th level fighter; He is a loyal retainer and the captain of the guard both in the castle and in the town. [L2 – 11]
Are these NPCs interesting, themselves? They are if you make them so. Is Grellus effectual? A dupe? Is he truly the power behind the throne; or might that person be another, Pelltar, for instance.

Peltar's Tower
Pelltar the Sorcerer, human, 9th level magic-user, AL LN
Pelltar is a bit of a mystery. Pelltar is very imperious and highly independent. [L1 – 24]
Does he work for Grellus? One wonders whether a LN could suffer a CG for long.
Is he using the Baron? Pelltar has a deed to the tower and an agreement of entry even if the Baron were to die. [L2 – 18]
Why does he need a tower in the keep when he has a house? One thing is for sure, he’s very secretive and security minded.
Pelltar's Tower
The trap door from the top of the tower has explosive runes on it.
[L1 – 18]
Just inside the doorway is a magic mouth that will yell if anyone but a tall bearded man enters. The door is also fire trapped. The room's guardians are four skeletons […] animated by PelItar to guard the room. […]; The walkway door is fire trapped and another magic mouth is in place as in 8a. […]; The trapdoor down to level b is made of iron and is wizard locked. [L1 – 19]
Also here is a crystal ball of clairaudience resting on a small pedestal. The ball is trapped so that if it is removed a packet of dust of sneezing and choking (save vs. Poison or die) will explode in a 10-foot radius. [L1 – 19]
Pelltar owns a Crystal Ball of Clairaudience… Just the thing to listen in on others.
He owns a warehouse, too.

25: This warehouse belongs to Pelltar, who also pays the guard's wages. Inside is fine food (value: 700 g.p.), aging wines (value: 900 g.p.), hard whiskey (value: 800 g.p.), iron rations (value: 250 g.p.), fine clothing (value: 800 g.p.), four sets of plate mail (value: 300 g.p. each), copper mugs, jugs, and cups (value: 340 g.p.), three tapestries (value: 400, 500 and 700 g.p.), and a suite of padded leather furniture worth 1,200g.p. There is a set of triple locks to this warehouse. Each is also Wizard Locked, and each also has an Explosive Rune and a Fire Trap on it. [L1 -24]
Explosive Runes? Fire Traps? One would expect that there might be more in that warehouse than what is mentioned.
It’s attended to, as well.

Guard's Home
Welcar and his Hounds
The "old man" who poses as a mere caretaker is really a grizzled but tough fighter named Welcar
[F5] […]
When standing guard duty he always has with him two war dogs (AC 6, MV 12" HD: 2 + 2, hp 12, 11, #AT 1, D 2-8). Each wears a collar with an enchantment on it that nullifies sleep spells for mammals of semi-intelligence or less. More intelligent mammals gain a 20% resistance and the duration of a successfully cast sleep spell is reduced to one round per level of the caster. This reduction will have effect even if the collar is removed from the sleeping animal. The collars are valued at 3,500 g.p. each since they can provide its protection to other mammals of value. [L1 -24]

Remember the rumour I mentioned before?
The warehouse guard dropped dead a few days ago during a scuffle in the inn with two half-orcs, but I saw him that very night and the half-orcs were found burned to death at the edge of town. [L1- 3]
It could be the most important one of the lot. That warehouse guard is Welcar. What was the scuffle about? Note that as written, Welcar dropped dead; Len did not say that the half-orcs killed Welcar. Who could have risen him from the dead? Was he ever really dead, or was it a ruse? And who might have burned the half-orcs AT THE EDGE OF TOWN? Pelltar? Is Len suggesting that no one noticed the immolation? Were the townfolk involved?
So many questions….

Phaulkon, Sulois, Air, Winds, Clouds, CG, m [WoGA – 64]
Symbol: Feathers/arrows
Vestment: Headdress, feathered cap
Colors: Blue and white
Animals: Any bird, especially hawk
Worshiped in: Hillside
Types of clergy: Clerics and druids
Alignment: Good
Majority of Followers: Good
[FootPrints #5 – 20]

Qualton, the abbot, human 6th level cleric, AL NG/NE (there is a story behind that.)
Qualton was neutral good but lately has begun to shift toward neutral evil. This is due to an ill-fated bout with a psionic blast that caused a form of schizophrenia […] in which he is perfectly normal at one moment and a megalomaniac at other times. In his megalomaniac state he desires to gain the throne by marrying Andrella (though she knows nothing of his plan or desires). Qualton's true feelings are far more likely to surface with time (see module L2). A detect evil will not show anything if he is in a normal state, and he does not have control over his transformations, or, at least he currently does not. He secretly prays to an evil deity for his third level spells. He is hesitant about leading services to Phaulkon but is still capable of doing so. [L1 – 23]
Len does not say which evil god is bestowing the 3rd level spells.
Might I suggest Syrul?

Syrul, Suloise, Deceit, False Promises, Lies NE, f [WoGA – 64]
Symbol: Two- Prong Fork
Vestment: Robe, Shaved head
Colors: Yellow & Brown
Animals: Poisonous Snake
Worshiped in: Outdoors during Full Moon
Types of clergy: Clerics
Alignment: Evil/Neutral
Majority of Followers: Evil and Humanoids
[FootPrints #5 – 20]

Almon, the Curate, human 4th level cleric, AL NG

This is the home of Almax the druid, his son Amos, and his wife Felwin. [L1 – 26]

Almax, human 7th level druid, AL N
Almax is second only to Pelltar in authority, after the Baron. [L1 – 27] That is a rather odd bit of text. It’s almost as if the baron is an afterthought.
Felwin, female elf, 2nd level magic-user, AL CN
Amos, half-elf, 3rd level druid, AL N

I should mention that one should be nice to potential benefactors in Restenford.
If the Fountain [of Good Health] is ever defiled, the offending party must be killed and thrown into the Fountain before it will function again. The fountain may be defiled by curse, unholy water, garbage, or excreted waste. The DM can turn such an event into an interesting adventure! [L1 – 27]
In other words, do NOT shit in the fountain, or Almax will hunt you down and kill you.

Before we pan further afield, let’s consider the conundrum in town: the bait shop. Why would a town with with fishermen require a bait shop. It’s not like they don’t catch their own bait. And to be honest, Restenford does not appear to be much of a tourism hotspot. The bait shop can’t do much business, if any; but selling bait isn’t why it exists….

Zahrdahl the Trickster
Zahrdahl the Trickster: 3rd level Illusionist, AL NE
Zahrdahl poses as a bait dealer, poor and dirty, but is really an illusionist spy for the Duke of Kroten to the northwest. [L1 – 25]
It’s a front. Most people of note probably suspect that he’s up to something. If not, they must be scratching their heads, wondering what this wretched, dirty little man is doing in town. I have to ask, whom is he really spying on? Grellus? Or Pelltar?

There’s another Gordian knot to unravel, just out of town.
The Church of the Big Gamble
Norebo Suloise, Luck, Gambling, Risk CN m [WoGA – 63]
Symbol: Two eight-sided dice
Vestment: Robe, bare head
Colors: Brown/dark green
Animals: Satyr/rabbit
Worshiped in: Woodland mound
Types of clergy: Clerics and druids
Alignment: CN(E)/Non-lawful
Majority of Followers: Thieves and Gamblers
[FootPrints #5 – 20]

Faldelac, High Priest, 10th level cleric, AL CN, who wears an amulet of inescapable location.
Is that a thing? It is.
Amulet of Inescapable location: This device is typically worn on a chain or as a brooch which pins on. It appears to be an amulet which prevents location, scrying (crystal ball viewing and the like), or detection/influence by ESP/telepathy. Actually, the amulet doubles the likelihood and/or range of these location and detection modes, however. Normal determination attempts, including detect magic, will not reveal its true nature. [DMG 1e – 137]

He might detect the surveillance over time. Spellcasters have a chance of detecting scrying equivalent to their percent chance to detect invisible creatures. Faldelac, a 10th level cleric, with 14 Intelligence, would have a 15% chance of detecting scrying, per round of scrying. [DMG 1e – 60]

Why is Falelac wearing a cursed amulet? How’d he come by it? Why did he not have it identified before donning it? Who is capable of scrying, anyway? Who might have a crystal ball of clairaudience? I wonder.
He’s not particularly amicable, either.
Faldelac is very short-tempered and will not tolerate an insult or obnoxious behaviour. He will quickly act to remove undesirable adventurers from the forest, and will initiate such action at a time when the party is most unaware. [L1 – 4]

Rumours regarding Faldelac:
The cleric on the hill is an honorable man. Go to him for help.
I have seen a high priest come to town from time to time though I have not met him.  They say he has a church somewhere within a dozen or so miles of town. [L1 – 3]
How could Faldelac build a temple so close to town and nobody know where it is or who he is? That seems so…secretive. Is it really a temple to Norebo? It is situated on a woodland mound, but I can’t help but think that such environs don’t really suit the Suel god of luck and gambling. If anything, its local implies devotion to the natural world. But Phaulkon already has an abbey in town. Phyton?

Auburn, High Priestess, 9th level cleric, AL CN
Other curates, one of note, mentioned later.

Why the God of Chance would wish to have his Church of the Big Gamble hidden away in a forest, and not in the centre of town is perplexing, at best. It says so in Len’s notes, but I have a hard time wrapping my head around the god of luck and gambling being so boreal.

Encounter Probabilities: 100% to observe birds and animals. It is 40% likely that such an animal, including the foxes, falcon, or raccoons, will come to the party and beg for food. This chance increases to 90% if the party makes camp. [L1 – 3]
If the berries are eaten, the person will be violently sick for 2-7 days. If the forest is entered during the winter this circle and knoll will be found to always stay above 60°F, even if snow is falling elsewhere. [L1 – 5]
If it weren’t for all the birds and woodland beast I might suggest Syrul…again. Because it all appears to be a lie.

Falelac & Auburn (left)

[The] High Priest will read from the scripture: "Oh, Master of Lots, bring the Divine Intervention in my behalf this day; all praise to thee, who controls the Destiny of Wagerers!", or "Oh, God of Chance, may the dodecahedrons of fate come up naught-naught!"
[L1 – 5]
It’s an odd litany, considering he arrives carrying a leather cup containing two ivory and jade "percentile" dice. [L1 – 5]
It's like he doesn't have a clue what he's rolling....

One more note about the Church of the Big Gamble:
This is the best the party can hope for in the way of aid on their adventures in this area. If they attack the place, the DM must be ruthless! [L1 – 5]
See the druid’s home above about what the PCs can expect if they decide to shit on the altar.

Not all encounters are dangerous. Some may be fortuitous:
Tolvar, 3rd level Magic-user, AL CN
Tolvar is an adventurer down on his luck. For a good offer he will become a henchman. [L1 – 6]

Locinda, half orc, female 3rd level thief/fighter AL CN
She can be hired for an expedition. She is an adventuress who recently arrived on the island. [L1 – 6]

Martin, 2nd ranger, AL NG
Martin is also a potential henchman. He is on no special mission. However, he is easily offended and expects people to take him at his word. [L1 – 6]

Others not:
Volcifar, 3rd level assassin, AL LE
Volcifar is lawful evil but will pass himself off as lawful neutral. […] He is very unlikely to murder a party member, even for a quick gain, but if an animosity builds up between a player character and himself he might then try to do him or her in. […] If the party has too many characters of good alignment, especially chaotic good, he will likely drift away after an adventure, perhaps taking a good item with him. [L1 – 6]

We come to the eponymous Secret of the hill.

As noted above, the place is riven with undead, for good reason. It’s been a haven for evil for centuries, and it casts a long shadow still. That would leave a mark. And it has. Zombies, skeletons, wights, wraiths. Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

The Wraith
The wraith was once a mighty, evil warlord who now acts in concert with the magic-user to further its own hate-filled purposes. Likewise, the skelter and zombire who roam this site […] are unique beings, once utterly evil henchman of the wraith in life but then physically destroyed and cursed with undead forms, sustained by the powerful evil of this ancient and diabolical spot.
[L1 – 8]
The skelter, like the zombire, is the animated remains of a once very evil low-level magic-user. [L1 – 8]

What is the wraith’s evil purposes? And what was his name? Len does not say. He does mention that others have come to put an end to them in the past. And failed.
The skeleton is the remains of a lawful good 15th level magicuser who once came to this ruin to do battle with the evil creatures within. His attempt, though valiant, was not successful, and he is now kept here, imprisoned, not wholly alive yet not wholly dead, and this torture has gnawed at his spirit for centuries. [L1 – 15]

A new evil has since taken up residence.
Telvar, human 6th level Magic-user, AL CE
Telvar’s name might be an issue. It’s too close to Tolvar, to my thinking, not to mention Telmar, a curate at the Big Gamble. Granted, Telvar and Tolvar could be brothers, twins. I suppose Telmar might be a relation, too, as well. That might be interesting. Grist for the mill.
Why ever Telvar’s reasons for coming, I have my doubts that his intent is fully in line with the wraith’s aims.

What’s to be done with all this information? Whatever your heart’s desire.
You could decide that Telvar and Tolvar, and Telmar, for that matter, are descendants of the evil overlord, and that Pelltar is keeping watch on Bone Hill. Why? Maybe Leomund sent him. You could swap out Pelltar with Leomund, for that matter.
Volcifar may have be drawn to Bone Hill, just as innumerable others have been. Indeed, he may even be conspiring with the orc bandits in the hills. So might Locinda, for that matter. Locinda may be there to discover why her brothers were murdered.
Is Martin a spy for the baron? He could very well be. I have to say that I would be very much disappointed if he were not. I do hate loose ends.
There are boundless possibilities to be imagined.
I wonder if that was Len’s intent? Or was he constrained by page count and pressed to leave out more text than he had wish to … you know, all those bits that explained what the secret of Bone Hill might have been, for instance.

I can’t help but believe that this was always intended to be a thinking man’s module. It was suggested for two to eight 2nd through 4th level characters rather than the usual six or so 1st through 3rd; that means its tougher than your standard, run-of-the-mill introductory adventures. It most certainly is, there being level draining undead within. I expect that those who "boldly go" very likely "quickly went" — beyond the veil, I mean. Players were never meant to duke it out with everything they met; and that in most instances, stealth was the better part of valour.
Len DMed it as a mystery, I think. Or so I imagine.

All secrets and mysteries aside, this is a difficult adventure, by any reckoning. There are quite a few mid- to high-level NPCs scattered about, and each would be a challenge to any party of 2nd level characters, however many there might be. To say nothing of the undead present. They drain levels! Nothing raised my hackles more than coming face to face with energy drainers.

Do I think that Bone Hill is a masterpiece? I do. It’s a diamond in the rough. It does require the DM to do a lot of work to pull it off. Yes, it does. It’s going to take tonnes of work. So, why is it a masterpiece, then? Because of its myriad possibilities. Because it’s a mini gazetteer. And because of what Len hints at in his prose, if you are willing to dig in and unearth what he’s buried within its 28 pages. And he buried a lot.

“Yes: I am a dreamer. For a dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.”
― Oscar Wilde, The Critic as Artist

One must always give credit where credit is due. This post is made possible primarily by the Imaginings of Gary Gygax and his Old Guard, Lenard Lakofka among them, and the new old guards, Carl Sargant, James Ward, Roger E. Moore. And Erik Mona, Gary Holian, Sean Reynolds, Frederick Weining. The list is interminable.
Very special thanks to Lenard Lakofka, without whose imagination, this adventure, and this review, could not have been possible, to say nothing of The Restenford Project.

The Art:
The Secret of Bone Hill cover, by Bill Willingham, 1981
Restenford Map, by Bill Willingham, from L1 The Secret of Bone Hill 1981
Area Map, by Bill Willingham, from L1 The Secret of Bone Hill, 1981
Gnolls illustration, by Harry Quinn (?), from L1 The Secret of Bone Hill, 1981
Pelltar's Tower illustration, by Erol Otus, from L1 The Secret of Bone Hill, 1981
Welcar illustration, by Jim Roslof, from L1 The Secret of Bone Hill, 1981
Gig Gamble illustration, by Stephen D Sullivan (?), from L1 The Secret of Bone Hill, 1981
Graveyard illustration, by Erol Otus, from L1 The Secret of Bone Hill, 1981

9025 World of Greyhawk Folio, 1980
1015 World of Greyhawk Boxed Set, 1983
2011A Dungeon Masters Guide, 1st Ed., 1979
9045 L1 The Secret of Bone Hill, 1981
9034 B2 The Keep on the Borderlands, 1980
9026 T1 The Village of Hommlet, 1979, 1981
9147 T1-4 The Temple of Elemental Evil, 1985
Footprints magazine #5, 2005
The Restenford Project

Wednesday, 27 October 2021

The Raven


The Raven

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore —
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door —
"'Tis some visitor," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door —
               Only this and nothing more."

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow; — vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow — sorrow for the lost Lenore —
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore —
               Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain

Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating,
"'Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door —
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door; —
               This it is and nothing more."

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
"Sir," said I, "or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you"—here I opened wide the door; —
               Darkness there and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, "Lenore?"
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, "Lenore!" —
               Merely this and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
"Surely," said I, "surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore —
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore; —
               'Tis the wind and nothing more!"

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door —
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door —
               Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
"Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou," I said, "art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore —
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore!"
               Quoth the Raven "Nevermore."

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning — little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blest with seeing bird above his chamber door —
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
               With such name as "Nevermore."

But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered — not a feather then he fluttered —
Till I scarcely more than muttered "Other friends have flown before —
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before."
               Then the bird said "Nevermore."

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
"Doubtless," said I, "what it utters is its only stock and store
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore —
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
               Of 'Never — nevermore.'"

But the Raven still beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore —
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt and ominous bird of yore
               Meant in croaking "Nevermore."

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom's core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion's velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o'er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o'er,
               She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
"Wretch," I cried, "thy God hath lent thee — by these angels he hath sent thee
Respite—respite and nepenthe, from thy memories of Lenore;
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!"
               Quoth the Raven "Nevermore."

"Prophet!" said I, "thing of evil! — prophet still, if bird or devil! —
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted —
On this home by Horror haunted — tell me truly, I implore —
Is there—is there balm in Gilead? — tell me — tell me, I implore!"
               Quoth the Raven "Nevermore."

"Prophet!" said I, "thing of evil—prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us — by that God we both adore —
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore —
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore."
               Quoth the Raven "Nevermore."

"Be that word our sign in parting, bird or fiend!" I shrieked, upstarting —
"Get thee back into the tempest and the Night's Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken! — quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!"
               Quoth the Raven "Nevermore."

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o'er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
               Shall be lifted — nevermore!



The Raven
By Edgar Allan Poe, 1845

 The Art:
All art is wholly owned by the artists.
Illustrations by Gustave Dore, from The Raven and Other Poems, 1884

Friday, 22 October 2021



“How can one be well...when one suffers morally?”
― Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

It’s a bone of contention for some. It’s restrictive, they say, confining. Maybe. Maybe not. It does give the player an architype to shoot for. A moral, or immoral, compass, if you will. It doesn’t need to be accurate from a RW point of view. This is D&D, after all, fantasy, not reality. There are no drow lurking in the depths of the earth, no marauding orcs, no dragons, just people, most of us largely unaligned, in game terms. Animals certainly are. They are only concerned with whether they are fed, or fodder.
We humans are a little more complex, I imagine, than our pets, although even they exhibit quite a range of polarity. But we are on a different plane, aren’t we? Even so, we are not chained to adherence to Law, or the Cause of Good, unlike solars, and demons, and modrons, which are actually defined by their higher planes they exist on. No Chaotic could hope to survive on the plane opposite theirs. Nevertheless, few would argue that there are free spirits among us. Those prone to belligerence and sedition. And a few who are undoubtedly evil.

Like it or not, alignment has always been part of D&D, even Basic, albeit a pared down version, consisting of only Law and Chaos, which actually mean Good and Evil. In D&D humans are very much “aligned,” and mindful and content with their world view. Granted, humans will never be as polarized as the higher beings. Evil characters still love (see Raistlin), and good PCs might still murder NPCs in the cause of greater good.

We all have a good idea what Good and Evil are. Law and Chaos is fairly obvious, too, if not as well defined or understood as an ethos. Neutrality of any sort is the grey zone where arguments arise.
I doubt that anyone would deny that there has always been a struggle between Good and Evil. Our literature is rife with it. Is there actually one between Law and Chaos? Michael Moorcock would say there is. In his multiverse, Law (Singularity) and Chaos (Entropy) are locked in endless struggle. Too much entropy and the structure of the universe will break down and result in infinite raw possibility, nothingness. Too much law and singular purpose will eliminate chance. No more creation. The multiverse will stagnate, becoming a static, sterile wasteland, nothingness.
Those possibilities horrified my younger self, and resonates with me still, as noted in my earlier post, On the Green God and the Elder Evil, Part 3.

What exactly is “alignment?” I’ve heard/read quite a few views on this divisive subject over time, most of them personal opinions and not canonical.
One needs go back to the original source to know what alignment really is. AD&D 1e goes into far greater depth than later editions do, which tend to drift further from its presumed importance, so I’ll lean on it rather than the others. I will reference 5e, it being the most recent iteration at the time of this posting, to compare how the definition of the alignments have evolved, if at all.

Good [and] Evil: Basically stated, the tenets of good are human rights, or in the case of ADBD, creature rights. Each creature is entitled to life, relative freedom, and the prospect of happiness. Cruelty and suffering are undesirable. Evil, on the other hand, does not concern itself with rights or happiness; purpose is the determinant. [DMG 1e – 23]
That’s illuminating: rights VS purpose.

Law [and] Chaos: The opposition here is between organized groups and individuals. That is, law dictates that order and organization is necessary and desirable, while chaos holds to the opposite view. Law generally supports the group as more important than the individual, while chaos promotes the individual over the group. [DMG 1e – 23]

How does that break down into the “accepted” nine alignment? I’ll begin with the definition presented to players, and compare that with the one given to DMs.

Lawful Good
While as strict in their prosecution of law and order, characters of lawful good alignment follow these precepts to improve the common weal. Certain freedoms must, of course, be sacrificed in order to bring order; but truth is of highest value, and life and beauty of great importance. The benefits of this society are to be brought to all. 
[PHB 1e – 33]

Creatures of lawful good alignment view the cosmos with varying degrees of lawfulness or desire for good. They are convinced that order and law are absolutely necessary to assure good, and that good is best defined as whatever brings the most benefit to the greater number of decent, thinking creatures and the least woe to the rest. [DMG 1e – 23]

Lawful good (LG) creatures can be counted on to do the right thing as expected by society. Gold dragons, paladins, and most dwarves are lawful good. [PHB 5e – 122]
The 5e definition is extremely simplified. Vague, in fact, to my mind. Each will be, as 5e steers clear of alignment, to my mind, allowing players to define their characters as they see fit. That’s not a bad thing, it’s just not OSR.

Are the above helpful? I think so, but the corners of the spectrum are the easiest to wrap your head around. If only there was a simple checklist that might illuminate the above descriptions.
Actually, there was one:
·        Will keep their word if they give it
·        Would not attack an unarmed foe
·        Will not use poison
·        Will help those in need
·        Prefers to work with others
·        Responds well to higher authority
·        Trustful of organizations
[From Another View of the Nine-Point Alignment Scheme, by Carl Parlagreco, from Dragon #26, 1979 – 23]
Each of the other nine is treated to the same bullets. Take careful note of the WILL, MAY, and WILL NOT texts. The PREFERENCEs and INDIFFERENCEs.
There was a time when paladins could only be LG. No more. Personally, I wish WotC would have renamed them Holy Warriors, or some such. But they did not, sparking decades of debates between grognards and new players ever more.

Those of this alignment view regulation as all-important, taking a middle road betwixt evil and good. This is because the ultimate harmony of the world – and the whole of the universe – is considered by lawful neutral creatures to have its sole hope rest upon law and order. Evil or good are immaterial beside the determined purpose of bringing all to predictability and regulation. [PHB 1e – 33]

It is the view of this alignment that law and order give purpose and meaning to everything. Without regimentation and strict definition, there would be no purpose in the cosmos. Therefore, whether a law is good or evil is of no import as long as it brings order and meaning. [DMG 1e – 23]

Lawful neutral (LN) individuals act in accordance with law, tradition, or personal codes. Many monks and some wizards are lawful neutral. [PHB 5e – 122]

·        Will keep their word if they give it
·        May attack an unarmed foe
·        May use poison
·        May help those in need
·        Prefers to work with others
·        Responds well to higher authority
·        Trustful of organizations
[Dragon #26 – 23]

I’ve heard LN described as the ideal judge, but the bullets tell a different tale. Judges act alone, albeit with tomes of laws and precedents at their disposal.

Lawful Evil
Creatures of this alignment are great respecters of laws and strict order, but life, beauty, truth, freedom and the like are held as valueless, or at least scorned. By adhering to stringent discipline, those of lawful evil alignment hope to impose their yoke upon the world. 
[PHB 1e – 33]

Obviously, all order is not good, nor are all laws beneficial. Lawful evil creatures consider order as the means by which each group is properly placed in the cosmos, from lowest to highest, strongest first, weakest last. Good is seen as an excuse to promote the mediocrity of the whole and suppress the better and more capable, while lawful evilness allows each group to structure itself and fix its place as compared to others, serving the stronger but being served by the weaker. [DMG 1e – 23]

Lawful evil (LE) creatures methodically take what they want, within the limits of a code of tradition, loyalty, or order. Devils, blue dragons, and hobgoblins are lawful evil. [PHB 5e – 122]

·        Will keep their work if they give it
·        Would attack an unarmed foe
·        Will use poison
·        Will not help those in need
·        Prefers to work with others
·        Responds well to higher authority
·        Trustful of organizations
[Dragon #26 – 23]

Neutral Good
Unlike those directly opposite them (neutral evil) in alignment, creatures of neutral good believe that there must be some regulation in combination with freedoms if the best is to be brought to the world - the most beneficial conditions for living things in general and intelligent creatures in particular. 
[PHB 1e – 33]

Creatures of this alignment see the cosmos as a place where law and chaos are merely tools to use in bringing life, happiness, and prosperity to all deserving creatures. Order is not good unless it brings this to all; neither is randomness and total freedom desirable if it does not bring such good. [DMG 1e – 23]

Neutral good (NG) folk do the best they can to help others according to their needs. Many celestials, some cloud giants, and most gnomes are neutral good. [PHB 5e – 122]

·        Will keep their word to others of good alignment
·        Would not attack an unarmed foe
·        Will not use poison
·        Will help those in need
·        May work with others
·        Indifferent to higher authority
·        Indifferent to organizations
[Dragon #26 – 23]

How would they know if someone is of good alignment without having cast a spell? Presumed good alignment would have been better phrasing.

True Neutral
The "true" neutral looks upon all other alignments as facets of the system of things. Thus, each aspect – evil and good, chaos and law – of things must be retained in balance to maintain the status quo; for things as they are cannot be improved upon except temporarily, and even then but superficially. Nature will prevail and keep things as they were meant to be, provided the "wheel" surrounding the hub of nature does not become unbalanced due to the work of unnatural forces - such as human and other intelligent creatures interfering with what is meant to be. 
[PHB 1e – 33]

Absolute, or true, neutral creatures view everything which exists as an integral, necessary port or function of the entire cosmos. Each thing exists as a part of the whole, one as a check or balance to the other, with life necessary for death, happiness for suffering, good for evil, order far chaos, and vice versa. Nothing must ever become predominant or out of balance. Within this naturalistic ethos, humankind serves a role also, just as all other creatures do. They may be more or less important, but the neutral does not concern himself or herself with these considerations except where it is positively determined that the balance is threatened. Absolute neutrality is in the central or fulcrum position quite logically, as the neutral sees all other alignments as parts of a necessary whole. This alignment is the narrowest in scope. [DMG 1e – 23]

Neutral (N) is the alignment of those who prefer to steer clear of moral questions and don't take sides, doing what seems best at the time. Lizardfolk, most druids, and many humans are neutral. [PHB 5e – 122]

·        Will keep their word if in their best interest
·        May attack an unarmed foe
·        May use poison
·        May help those in need
·        May work with others
·        Indifferent to higher authority
·        Indifferent or organizations
[Dragon #26 – 23]

Remember when druids had to be True Neutral? That said, when did Rob Kuntz’s Dark Druids make their debut? The module was published in 2015, but they are far older than that, as noted in the blurb:
“Dark Druids includes complete descriptions and maps for an outdoor area and a three-level adventure site, and is easily adaptable to most campaign settings. It also includes an outline for further adventuring, a selection of new monsters, spells, and magic items, plus Robert J. Kuntz’s historical context and commentary on this module’s relationship to his campaigns of the 1970’s.”
One wonders if Gary Gygax and Rob were not as constrained by their own rules as we were.

Neutral Evil
The neutral evil creature views law and chaos as unnecessary considerations, for pure evil is all-in-all. Either might be used, but both are disdained as foolish clutter useless in eventually bringing maximum evilness to the world. 
[PHB 1e – 33]

Similar to the neutral good alignment, that of neutral evil holds that neither groups nor individuals hove great meaning. This ethos holds that seeking to promote weal for all actually brings woe to the truly deserving. Natural forces which are meant to cull out the weak and stupid are artificially suppressed by so-called good, and the fittest are wrongfully held back, so whatever means are expedient can be used by the powerful to gain and maintain their dominance, without concern for anything. [DMG 1e – 23]

Neutral evil (NE) is the alignment of those who do whatever they can get away with, without compassion or qualms. Many drow, some cloud giants, and yugoloths are neutral evil. [PHB 5e – 122]

·        Will not necessarily keep their word
·        Would attack an unarmed foe
·        Will use poison
·        Will not help those in need
·        May work with others
·        Indifferent to higher authority
·        Indifferent or organizations
[Dragon #26 – 23]

Need one follow these points to the letter? Of course not. NEs will help those in need, if doing so helps them achieve their goals.

Chaotic Good
While creatures of this alignment view freedom and the randomness of action as ultimate truths, they likewise place value on life and the welfare of each individual. Respect for individualism is also great. By promoting the gods of chaotic good, characters of this alignment seek to spread their values throughout the world. 
[PHB 1e – 33]

To the chaotic good individual, freedom and independence are as important to life and happiness. The ethos views this freedom as the only means by which each creature con achieve true satisfaction and happiness. Law, order, social forms, and anything else which tends to restrict or abridge individual freedom is wrong, and each individual is capable of achieving self-realization and prosperity through himself, herself, or itself. [DMG 1e – 23]

Chaotic good (CG) creatures act as their conscience directs, with little regard for what others expect. Copper dragons, many elves, and unicorns are chaotic good. [PHB 5e – 122]

·        Will keep their word to others of good alignment
·        Would not attack an unarmed foe
·        Will not use poison
·        Will help those in need
·        Prefers to work alone
·        Responds poorly to higher authority
·        Distrustful of organizations
[Dragon #26 – 23]

Chaotic Neutral
Above respect for life and good, or disregard for life and promotion of evil, the chaotic neutral places randomness and disorder. Good and evil are complimentary balance arms. Neither are preferred, nor must either prevail, for ultimate chaos would then suffer. 
[PHB 1e – 33]

This view of the cosmos holds that obsolete freedom is necessary. Whether the individual exercising such freedom chooses to do good or evil is of no concern. After all, life itself is law and order, so death is a desirable end. Therefore, life can only be justified as a tool by which order is combatted, and in the end it too will pass into entropy. [DMG 1e – 24]

Chaotic neutral (CN) creatures follow their whims, holding their personal freedom above all else. Many barbarians and rogues, and some bards, are chaotic neutral. [PHB 5e – 122]

·        Will keep their word if in their best interest
·        May attack an unarmed foe
·        May use poison
·        May help those in need
·        Prefers to work alone
·        Responds poorly to higher authority
·        Distrustful of organizations
[Dragon #26 – 23]

Is this the most contentious of all the alignments? It could be.
How many of you have came face to face with players playing CN as CE, or as hopelessly random, and decidedly insane PCs?

Chaotic Evil
The major precepts of this alignment are freedom, randomness, and woe. Laws and order, kindness, and good deeds are disdained. Life has no value. By promoting chaos and evil, those of this alignment hope to bring themselves to positions of power, glory, and prestige in a system ruled by individual caprice and their own whims. 
[PHB 1e – 33]

The chaotic evil creature holds that individual freedom and choice is important, and that other individuals and their freedoms are unimportant if they cannot be held by the individuals through their own strength and merit. Thus, law and order tends to promote not individuals but groups, and groups suppress individual volition and success. [DMG 1e – 24]

Chaotic evil (CE) creatures act with arbitrary violence, spurred by their greed, hatred, or bloodlust. Demons, red dragons, and orcs are chaotic evil. [PHB 5e – 122]

·        Will not necessarily keep their word
·        Would attack an unarmed foe
·        Will use poison
·        Will not help those in need
·        Prefers to work alone
·        Responds poorly to higher authority
·        Distrustful of organizations
[Dragon #26 – 23]

If I were to ban a particular alignment, it would have to be this one. I cannot see how anyone playing CE as written would not be dead in the first session, or on the lam for their remaining (short) life.
If there was ever an alignment type that could break a campaign, it would be this one.
Only the most thoughtful, and cunning, of players could pull this off without the above assured outcomes.

Do I like alignment? I do. As I said in the opening paragraphs, it gives a player a moral compass. Is it entirely necessary? No. A great many games have no such device. If you do not use it, players can do whatever they wish, without “moral” guidance as to what their ethos is. To my mind, that’s an accuse to play Evil without declaring Evil. That’s what the 4e’s “Unaligned” boils down to, doesn’t it? Players can kill and torture with abandon, and save the child, and brush off all criticism with a wave of a hand and a callously uttered, I’m unaligned.
Alignment can add a level of complexity that being unaligned does not. How many people contributed to, participated in, the Holocaust, and were not evil? I was just following orders.

Inner Conflict
So, are you Good? Lawful? Personally, I mean. Here, in the real world. Have you ever wondered what your actual alignment might be, if such a thing existed? Have you ever taken one of those online tests that pinpoint your alignment? Your personality? Both exist. Both are as about as accurate as the other, I expect. They’re denounced as pseudoscience, and I tend to agree: If you take the Myers-Briggs Personality test multiple times, you are assured multiple personalities. (Try not to read too much into that statement. It’s meant to be tongue-in-cheek.) Results depend on the mood you’re in. And what you define as “somewhat agree.”
Have I taken them? I have.

What’s my alignment, you ask?
That would be telling. And inadvisable.
Any character foolish enough to announce his or her alignment by publicly crying out in that alignment tongue will incur considerable social sanctions. At best he or she will be thought unmannerly, rude, boorish, and stupid. [DMG 1e – 24]
So, I think I’ll keep that to myself.

“I learned from him that often contradiction is the clearest way to truth”
― Patti Smith, Just Kids

One must always give credit where credit is due. This History is made possible primarily by the Imaginings of Gary Gygax and his Old Guard, Lenard Lakofka among them.

The Art:
All art is wholly owned by the artist.
The Alignment chart, from Players Handbook 1e, 1978 

2010 Players Handbook 1st Ed., 1978
2011A Dungeon Masters Guide, 1st Ed., 1979
Players handbook 5th Ed., 2014
Dragon Magazine 26
The Dragonlance trilogy, by Margret Weis and Tracy Hickman
The War of the Twins trilogy, by Margret Weis and Tracy Hickman
The sagas of Elric of Melnibone, and of Corum Jhaelen Irsei, by Michael Moorcock