Friday, 27 May 2022

On Ratikhill

“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)
― Anonymous

A Cold Vigil
It’s a cold vigil, standing atop the wall, and always has been.
Long ago, we faced north, anxious for coming of the Barbarian hordes that crashed upon our walls, wave after wave, howling, bellowing bloodcurdling death songs, the singers eager to join their ancestors in the afterlife. Now we peer into the south, expecting the bloodthirst euroz to fall upon us yet, as they have, time and again. They lurk in the heights of the Rakers, they lurk amid the tall pines of the Loft Hills, waiting for our patrols to emerge.
We hold the wall. Like our fathers did, and their fathers did before them, as our sons will when we have fallen in defence of life, empire, and the cause of liberty.
So it was, so it is, so it will ever be.

Ratikhill has always been the vanguard of civilization, proud, Aerdian.
Ratikhill (pop, 5,500) [LGG – 89]
Ratik is populated chiefly by folk of Aerdi descent, with an Oeridian-Suel mix being common. Few Flan are here, though many Fruztii and some Schnai are present, expatriate farmers from their homelands. Dwarves and gnomes are numerous in rougher lands. Only humans prefer the coasts, where their fishing villages are located. Ratik is well settled despite being located so far north of the population centers of the former Great Kingdom, partly because so many refugees fled here from Bone March. [LGG – 89]
Some farming is conducted during the short growing season in the open lands between Marner and Ratikhill. [LGG – 89]
It is a very much a northern town, despite its southern roots. The snows come early here and stay long.
The climate of Ratik is wintry much of the year, with heavy snows swollen with moisture from the Solnor falling steadily during the height of Telchur's sway. The windswept Timberway remains the greatest focus of the realm. It is a hunting ground that produces the pelts and furs used widely in the dress of the nation. It also provides Ratik with its greatest bounty, the timber and shipbuilding supplies that drive much of the economic activity of the archbarony. [LGG – 89]
Hard work and windswept bitter cold. That hardens a people.

They hold the line, the Rakers to the east, the Loftwood and the Sea to the East.
Rakers (The): A southern arm of the Griff Mountains which runs downward into the central part of eastern Flanaess is known as the Rakers, since the tall, sharp peaks seemingly rake the skies. […] Although infested with humanoids and fearsome creatures, these mountains also provide a home for a number of groups of dwarves and mountain dwarves. It is not known how much valuable ore is contained within these peaks. [Folio – 24]

The western border of Ratik is an endless range of foothills, inhabited by dwarves for millennia. These mountains are dotted with mines of gold and precious gems situated between citadels of stone that protect the ways from the denizens of the deep mountains. [LGG – 89]

The Loftwood
A smallish pine forest growing on the coast of Bone March between the foothills of the Rakers and Grendep Bay, the tall trees of this woodland are prized as masts for large ships. It Is now undoubtedly being despoiled by humanoids. [Folio – 29]

Loftwood: The small Loftwood lies along the Solnor Coast between Bone March and Ratik. Its pines were once much prized for shipbuilding. The site of a great Ratikkan victory over Bone March orcs (578 CY), the wood was partly despoiled by nonhumans setting fires (584—585 CY). It is once again a battleground between Ratik in the north and orcs and gnolls in the south. [LGG – 141]
Its southern border is marked by the fortified hills separating Ratik from Bone March. These extend east all the way out to the Loftwood, where the hearty woodsmen are allied with the archbarony. [LGG – 89]

Grendep Bay:
This great arm of the Sol nor Ocean is the favorite means of travel for the barbarians of the North when they raid the mainland. These brave sailors usually are anxious to cross southward as early in the spring as possible, however, and return late in the fall; for during the warm summer, great sea monsters are often seen sporting in the bay. [WoGA – 47]

Grendep Bay: This great arm of the Solnor Ocean is crossed by northern barbarians when they raid southwards, and only they have sure knowledge of the many western inlets and eastern fjords. During high summer, great sea monsters are often seen sporting in the bay. It is an unfriendly area in winter as well, when freezing winds churn its waters. Sea Barons' traders here are raided by Snow and Ice Barbarian ships. [LGG – 147]

While these barriers have profoundly isolated Ratik from the rest of the Flanaess, they also have served to protect it from invaders for centuries. [LGG – 89]

It has not always been Aerdian, however.
The Flan have dwelt here for ages, and before them the dwarves and the gnomes. Until the Suel came.

-423 CY
One of Zellifar's minions, the High Priest Pellipardus, slips away from the Zolites and takes his minor family to the Ratik area, in the North. [OJ#1]
Zellifar does not pursue, fearing that this will take his attention away from the Three Houses of Pursuit: the Schnai, the Fruztii, and the Cruski. [OJ#11]

-423 to -200 CY
But the Suel did not remain in the Loft Hills. They spread north.
And then were pressed north by the coming of the Oeridians.
For two centuries the Oerid and Suel battled each other and the fragmenting humanoid hordes for possession of the central area of the Flanaess, incidentally engaging the Flannish and demi-humans. [Folio – 5]

-417 CY
Finding the north all but empty, except for a few nuisance Flan clans and some scattered Sylvain settlements, the Suel claimed these empty northern lands for themselves.
The Three Houses of Pursuit move into the Thillonrian Peninsula. [OJ#1]
The known history of the Suel of the far north is a combination of legend, myth and tradition. Their earliest tales are of the battles they fought as they may their way across the Flanaess, dogged by the Oeridians who allowed them no habitation in the rich central lands. […] The ancestors of the Suel barbarians hated the Suel nobles and aristocracy almost as much as they hated foreign races. They acknowledged no masters, and after a century of travail finally crossed the Rakers into Rhizia. [LGG – 44]
Bresht was founded to protect newly acquired Oeridian conquests.
The walled town of Bresht was renamed Ratikhill in honor of the new baron [….] [LGG – 90]

108 CY
Beleaguered by the Oeridian Invaders
Those Suel who remained in the Loft Hills and the Loftwood soon found themselves beleaguered by the Oeridian invaders.
The Aerdi freed Johnsport in a pitched battle with the barbarians before the onset of winter. Sensing that this would be only the first phase of a long struggle, Aerdi commanders summoned thousands of contingents from North Province over the objections of the herzog, a Hextorian who had wanted to lead the forces into battle himself. [LGG – 36]

109 CY
With the defeat of the Fruztii at Johnsport, the call went out that winter, and thousands of their kinsmen poured south along the Timberway the next year. [LGG – 36]

109 - 110 CY
The Oeridians were victorious, despite hard Suel resistance. And they meant to have more.
The Aerdi drove the surviving barbarians out of the hills, controlling the land all the way to the Loftwood by the following spring. [LGG – 36]

122 CY
But the Suel did not go willingly. Nor did they admit defeat.
When the Kingdom of Aerdy became an empire, its leaders determined to crush the troublesome barbarians pushing down from the Thillonrian Peninsula and settling in the strip of land between the Rakers and Grendep Bay. [Folio – 9]

Fortifying Bresht
However, it soon became clear to the leaders of the Aerdi military that a further buffer was required if these new lands were to be protected from additional incursions from the north. General Sir Pelgrave Ratik of Winetha, a wily veteran of the barbarian campaigns, appointed in 122 CY to oversee an expedition that would attempt to drive the Aerdi frontier all the way to the foothills of the Griff Mountains. Ratik and his forces inaugurated their expedition by crossing Kalmar Pass, taking the town of Bresht in a blustery winter campaign that cost the Fruztii dearly. An alliance with the dwarven lords of the eastern Rakers, Ratik proceeded to force a retreat of the Fruztii up the narrow coast and into the northern fastness of the Timberway.
[LGG – 89,90]
Those Fruztii thanes who chose to remain bent the knee to their new overlords and ruled the lands north of Marner in their stead.

128 CY
The Fruztii north of the Timberway were not defeated. Nor had they bent the knee. Nor did they admit those lost lands relinquished. They meant to have them back.
In 128 CY, the Fruztii and Schnai allied to create an invasion flotilla. They launched a concerted attack on Marner during the spring that almost caught the Aerdi by surprise. In defense, General Ratik set the major approaches to the port ablaze, forcing the armada through a narrow approach where it was cut to pieces by the siege engines of the fort and a squadron of the imperial navy. [LGG – 90]

130 CY
After a raiding fleet was roundly beaten, the Overking elevated this general to the nobility, creating him Baron Ratik. [WoGA – 32]
The overking was sufficiently impressed with the victory that in 130 CY he elevated Pelgrave Ratik to the aristocracy, granting him the title of baron and the new lands as a personal fief. The family of Ratik gained the status of a minor noble house within the Great Kingdom. The walled town of Bresht was renamed Ratikhill in honor of the new baron, and it quickly prospered from trade with Spinecastle passing through Kalmar Pass. [LGG – 90]
This did not conquer the Fruztii spirit.  They would not relent. If they could not defeat the Aerdi they would raid them without respite.

130 – 350 CY
Can one separate the history this city from the state? If not, then the history of Ratik and Ratikhill is very much married with that of the Bone March. Ratik sprang from the March, after all.
Thereafter a succession of [Pelgrave Ratik’s] descendants have ruled the fief, bravely combatting raiders so as to gain their respect and even friendship from some, while humans and demihumans alike prospered. [WoGA – 32]
The baron and the marquis of Bone March became fast allies, and their descendants enjoyed a great deal of peace and success over the next two centuries, needing only to fend off infrequent raids from the Timberway and the Rakers until the middle of the fourth century CY. [LGG – 90]
Ratikill repurposed. Trade passed its gates and its garrison dwindled, there being little need for legions when companies sufficed.

353 CY
No sally, no sortie, nor siege had ever dislodged the Aerdi from Ratikhill. The Rhizians decided to cut Ratik off from its lifeblood by encircling it. Should the Bone March fall, surely Ratik must, as well.
[A] massive invasion by a unified host of Fruztii and Schnai threatened to overwhelm the nations and sweep into North Province in 356 CY. The Rax Overking Portillan was concurrently embroiled in a struggle over the secession of Nyrond and had assembled an invasion force to head west, which he was forced to divert north to counter the new threat. The attack was soon turned back, though at great cost. So fierce was the defense of the men and dwarves of Ratik that even the Fruztii were impressed. [LGG- 90]

450 CY
The Celestial court would accomplish what the Fruztii could never do. Its myopic rule turned inward, and for centuries the Great Kingdom waned, shrinking ever smaller. It was only a matter of time before Marner realized that there could be no help from the Malachite Throne, not then, not ever. It must look to itself and its closest ally, and none other, were it to survive.
Ratik and Bone March gained semipalatinate status following the Turmoil Between Crowns, which saw a shift of power from the Malachite Throne to the provinces. Few of Ratik's riches headed south in tribute, and Alain II of Ratik took to calling himself archbaron henceforth. [LGG – 90,91]

443 CY
In 443 CY, Ivid I set about hunting down and destroying the remaining Knight Protectors, for they opposed his ascension to the throne after he assassinated the last Rax overking. He did not succeed in destroying them, but they were widely dispersed, and some disappeared from the courts of the provinces to go into hiding. [LGG – 158]

560 – 563 CY
The Euroz This Way Came
All too soon, disaster struck.
In 560, nonhuman tribes from the Rakers and Blemu Hills struck into Bone March, subjugating the land in 563 and slaying its leaders. [LGG – 91]

When the hordes of humanoids began attacking, Ratik had ample warning from the dwarves dwelling in the mountains. Companies of men and gnomes hurried west to aid their countrymen against the invaders, while couriers were sent south (and north) to alert the people there. Resistance was so fierce that the area was bypassed, and the attackers fell instead upon the Bone March. […]
The Baron's forces are able to defend Ratik, but they are not strong enough to dislodge the humanoids from the mountains of the plain to the south. [WoGA – 32]

Ratik and its baron, Lexnol III, had been forewarned and deflected most of the invaders, but could not prevent the disaster that befell the march. Lexnol, a skilled leader and tactician, realized that he was now isolated and no succor would be forthcoming from the south or the court of Overking Ivid V. He approached the lords of Djekul, who had grown less wary of the proud Aerdi in the intervening years and were even grudgingly respectful. With the Fruztii, Lexnol forged an affiliation called the Northern Alliance. Ratik subsequently became fully independent of the Great Kingdom and had the might to both hammer the orcs and gnolls of Bone March and dissuade an invasion from North Province. [LGG – 91]

The isolated barony has since been ruled as a fief palatine. [WoGA – 32]

563 CY
Most Knight Protectors of the Great Kingdom live now in Ratik, refugees from Bone March, where Clement was a powerful member of the order until the province's fall in 563 CY. [LGG – 158]

580 CY
The successful alliance of the Barony of Ratik and the Frost Barbarians has caused much consternation in Bone March (and among the Baron of Ratik's political enemies in Rauxes). The tribes of the Bone March are still smarting from the drubbing they received last year from the combined Ratik-Fruztii armies, so the evil leaders of the humanoids have determined that the northern alliance must be dissolved. Certain espionage elements in Marner that usually work for the Overking were contacted, and an agreement was reached. In a daring raid, the Seal of the Alliance was stolen from the Baronial Vault. This symbolic parchment was endorsed and blessed by the gods of both Ratik and Fruztii, and the superstitious Frost Barbarians place great store in its continued safety. Once it is learned that the men of Ratik were unable to keep it safe, the alliance will probably fall apart. or at least be greatly damaged. The Seal is now being taken to Spinecastle, where it will be displayed and its theft publicly announced. [WoGG – 29,30]

However, regaining the Seal will not be easy, for the thieves and assassins from Marner are now riding with an armed group that was waiting for them with the border guard.
This group includes:
- 24 ores, including some leader types.
- An evil human magic-user of high level, with appropriate magic items. (He now carries the Seal.)
- 5 ogres, all well-armed and armored.
- A charmed minotaur which protects and obeys the magic-user. [WoGG – 30]

In Hot Pursuit

In 580 CY, intruders from Bone March attempted an audacious act of treachery by stealing the Seal of Marner, an object blessed by the gods of the Suel barbarians that was the symbol of the new Northern Alliance.
[LGG – 36,37]
Rangers were deployed from Ratikill in hot pursuit of the thieves.
The plot was foiled when the raiding party was captured in Kalmar Pass before making it back to Spinecastle with their prize. [LGG – 36,37]

[The] Seal of Marner was stolen by agents of Bone March, an effort by the nonhumans to quash the alliance between Ratik and the Frost Barbarians. The document was recovered before it was secreted to Spinecastle, but not before news of the theft drove a small wedge between the Fruztii and Ratikans. [LGG – 37]

582 CY
If the theft had driven a small wedge between Ratik and the Fruztii it also increased their resolve. The Northern Alliance sought to drive the euroz from the Loft Hills and the Loftwood, once and for all.
The alliance between Ratik and the Frost Barbarians against the humanoids of the Bone March has born fruit over years of cooperation. The forces of Ratik now occupy the Loftwood and are preparing for a major assault on the city of Johnsport, backed by a naval attack along the coast to the east. [WGS1 – 4]

586 CY
Had they tempered that resolve, if only a little.
Infighting soon broke out between several of the nonhuman tribes, and the sides remained stalemated until 586 CY, when Alain IV, Archbaron Lexnol's son and heir, launched a raid into the fallen realm that was composed in large part of expatriates of the march, it was a doomed mission. The unusually organized nonhumans laid a trap for the force in the hills north of Spinecastle. Horrified survivors who escaped back to Ratikhill reported that the trapped raiders were dragged from their horses, torn apart, and eaten alive before their eyes. [LGG – 37]

587 CY
Alain’s death rejuvenated the euroz. They began inching forward into the Loft Hills and Loftwood once again, testing Ratikhill’s defences.
Raids into the archbarony from Bone March have resumed. [LGG – 37]

590 CY
Folks living along the southern reaches of Ratik have always lived with the threat of humanoid incursions from occupied Bone March, across the Rakers. Ratikhill has stood at the mouth of the Kalmar pass—a great barrier against these evil waves. As Telchur’s frozen breath comes across Grendep Bay once again, the armies from the south move through the pass, towards Ratikhill’s great walls. To the east, the foresters of the Loftwood report that various orc and gnoll clans are gathering. With the bulk of Ratik’s army stationed at Ratikhill, many fear that the militia of House Bredivan may not be able to hold the Loftwood border. [LGJ#2 – 30]

591 CY
We Stand the Wall
Raids from Bone March have become progressively stronger and more organized the last few years.
[LGG – 91]
Attacks against the borders of Ratik have besieged the militia of the northern and southern nobles over the past several months. Lives have been lost. Lumber production in the Timberway and Loftwood has plummeted. All the while, Archbaroness Evaleigh has done nothing. The Council of Lords pleads and demands for decisive action to no avail. The majority of the army remains entrenched at Ratikhill to support the Bone March campaign, while the Lords of ratik sacrifice their own troops in the country’s defence. Finally, some of the noble houses have begun to plot more immediate and drastic action. At the same time, the plummeting economy and lack of trade has driven the various guild members to take actions of their own. The throne of the Archbarony, the noble Council of Lords, and the merchant guilds appear to be deploying for and internal conflict which could devastate the country more than any invading army. [LGJ#4 – 30]

What will become of Ratikhill, one wonders?
Do not despair.
We stand the wall, they would say, for life, empire, and the cause of liberty, like our fathers did, and their fathers did before them, as our sons will when we have fallen.
So it was, so it is, so it will ever be.

“Fall down seven times, stand up eight.”
― Japanese Proverb

One must always give credit where credit is due. This piece 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.
Special thanks to Jason Zavoda for his compiled index, “Greyhawkania,” an invaluable research tool.

The Art:
World of Greyhawk map detail, by Darlene, from the Folio, 1980

1015 World of Greyhawk Boxed Set, 1983
2023 Greyhawk Adventures Hardback, 1988
1064 From the Ashes Boxed Set, 1992
9025 World of Greyhawk Folio, 1980
9317 WGS1 Five Shall be One, 1991
11743 Living Greyhawk Gazeteer, 2000
Living Greyhawk Journal, #2, #4
Oerth Journal, #1, #11
Greychrondex, Wilson, Steven B.
Greyhawkania, Jason Zavoda
The map of Anna B. Meyer

Friday, 20 May 2022

On Duchess and Candella

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

Candella and Duchess
Anyone who has followed this blog may already realise that Duchess and Candella are my favourite NPCs. One or two of you may ask, why? They are low level, hardly heroic. They’re thieves, for goodness sakes.
That would be unkind. NPCs are ours to define and develop; they are what we make them.
Shekespeare said it best in Twelfth Night, I believe, even if its inference was less than kind when spoken: “Be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.”
That may be the very reason why I love them so. Room to grow, so to speak. And what room, indeed!

Where’d this dynamic duo spring from? The imagination of Jean Wells.
Consider this comment from this Dragonsfoot Forum thread:
Candella and Duchess
“Those are indeed Jean [Well]'s favorite duo in both pictures. They come from her and/or Skip's campaign in the late 1970s, iirc, tho she played other characters in my Lake Geneva campaign c1981-85.”
This leads me to believe that Duchess and Candella were 2 of her PCs, her favourite, it would seem, judging by the above quote. She loved them enough that she wished to immortalise them in her one and only adventure module, that only briefly saw print, before office politics decreed that her effort be recalled and destroyed. Why was it destroyed? Not by her doing, rumour has it; it had everything to do with presumably suggestive and immoral artwork, none of which she was happy with. Much has been said about this “lost” classic (which is not lost at all: the PDF is readily available for download; and a number of copies were “rescued” from destruction and those that were demand a pretty penny these day), so I won’t dwell on it. Use a little Google-fu if you’d like to learn more. The art may not have been her fault, but that did not save her from the fallout. Alas, she produced no other products for TSR.
Sadly, we cannot ask her, personally, what happened. She is forever mum on the subject.
(Oeva Jean Wells Koebernick, July 25, 1955 – January 25, 2012, 56 years old)

She will be forever mum on the subject of Duchess and Candela, as well. There might be a few who are privy to the story. The aforementioned Skip [Williams?] might have insights, perhaps a few others from those early hallowed halls of TSR who are still alive and well might, as well. I have not reached out to any of them on the subject, and likely never will, preferring to dream what dreams I may, instead. That way D & C will be forever mine.

All we do know is the little she wrote about them.
As the party searches the room, roll for a wandering monsters. If on the first roll none was indicated roll again. On the last roll if one was indicated the wandering monster will be two female thieves: Candella (20) F (AC 7, T2, hp 8, #AT 1, D 1-6. Save T2, M 7, AL N, S 12, I 15, W 13, D 17, C 15, CH 14) Duchess (18) F (AC 7, T2, hp 6, #AT 1, D 1-6, Save T2, M 7, AL N, S 11, I 12, W 15, D 16, C 18, CH 15). Both women will have an above average appearance (CH 14, 15) and will attempt to use it to their benefit. They will pretend to be young inexperienced fighters in search of adventure, fame and fortune, but mostly fortune. Candella is the spokesman of the two women.
These two thieves will be friendly towards the party, not acting hostile if they win the initiative. They will politely ask to join the party, saying that they are not quite as tough or prepared for adventuring as they had originally thought themselves to be. Dutchess [sic] (hp 6, CH 15) will stress her desire to accompany them, saying she fears that she and her companion have made a grave error in attempting to venture into the palace ruins by themselves, especially after seeing the strange 3 headed monsters they have managed to flee from so far. Both thieves will have the following on them including normal dungeon supplies, weapons and thieves tools:
15 gp.
7 sp.
21 cp.
Wolfsbane (Duchess)
poisoned daggers (poison effective for one attack)
Strand of pearls (Candella) (value 600gp)
These two thieves may be used by the DM as NPCs (nonplayer characters) or as a normal dungeon encounter.
[B3_Original – 10, 11]

What have we learned from this short passage? That they are pretty, and that they use their beauty to their advantage. They misrepresent themselves—perhaps not unexpected, as they are thieves and of dubious moral fortitude (they are packing poison, after all), and one might expect (they certainly do) that thieves would be less welcome in Lawful parties than fighters—although there is no mention that they will not be true to the party. That may be implied, citing the poison, but they are not Chaotic, are they?
We also learn that although it is Duchess who wishes (stresses her desire) to join the party, it is Candella who their spokesperson. That suggests that Candella (I 15, W 13, CH 14), the smarter of the 2, is the leader, but that Duchess (I 12, W 15, CH 15), the wiser and more charismatic of the 2, is not without influence.

That’s not much to go on; but it is also enough to inspire the imagination.
I’m not the only person to be inspired by Duchess and Candella, either. Those who are do pop up from time to time, in art, mainly (most notably Domenico Neziti, as seen below); but I also expect that quite a few DMs have seen fit to include them in adventures they’ve devised. ArtoftheGenre certainly used their image on the cover of his bonus module A Secret Respite, if only there and not in the adventure, itself.
Candella and Duchess
First, that is a great 'catch', as yes, the entire scene is a homage to the Red Box, as the shop is the one used by the fighter character in the introduction mini-adventure, and the cleric is the one from the book, although it isn't Aleena (who sadly died in the mini-adventure intro), as in the book she's called Clarion if you read the description under the Cleric class. I've used her extensively in my Roslof Keep adventure series because I fell in love with her when I was 12 and haven't stopped yet, obviously. AND the two other female characters are Duchess and Candella from The Palace of the Silver Princess (originally drawn by Roslof). This image is done by artist Domenico Neziti, who has done some great work for Art of the Genre in the past. And sadly no, none of the characters appear in the mini-adventure, unless you are using the playable characters from the Roslof Keep Campaign, in which Clarion has been stat-blocked at high level. I just enjoy putting Duchess and Candella in various situations, because I think they are fun.

More importantly, Tom Moldvay saw fit to salvage D & C and include them in his refit of Jean’s disgraced adventure. One wonders whether he was inspired by these exceptional NPCs, or maybe perhaps he wished to exonerated Jean by ensuring her favourite characters survived the axe that felled her. We will never know how so about this, either, as Tom shall be as forever mum on the subject as Jean is, for the same reason.
B3 Candella and Duchess
(Tom Moldvey, November 5, 1948 – March 9, 2007, 58 years old)
But salvage, and immortalise them, he did.
A statue of a young girl playing with a dove is in the south-eastern corner of this oddly shaped room. A large handcarved bookcase stands next to the northeastern wall. Two wooden benches, one in front of each of the two southwestern windows, have scrolls lying upon them. Two women stand next to one of the benches. Both women wear leather armor and carry swords. One of the women has just unrolled a scroll and is reading it. [B3 – 24]

Tom did not deviate much from Jean’s original intent, although his room we encounter them in differs from the one she introduced them.
This room contains the remains of bunks, bedrolls, round oaken tables, stools, benches and dead soldiers which have been beheaded. Along the north wall is a line of 6 heads. [B3_Original – 10]
Jean’s is far more grim.

Other than that, Tom’s D & C are as equally deceitful in their profession.
The two women appear to be fighters, but are really thieves. [B3 – 24]
Otherwise, they are very much identical to Jean’s “heroines.”
The two women are named Candella (AC 5; T/2; hp 8; MV40'; #AT 1; D 1-8; Save T2;  ML7 ;AL N; S 12,  I 15 ,W 13,D  17, C 15, Ch 14), and Duchess (AC 5; T/2; hp 11; MV 40'; #AT 1; D1-8; Save T2; ML 7; AL N; S 11, I 12, W 15, D 16, C 18, Ch 15). Because of their wisdom ability scores, both women gain a bonus of +1 on magic-based saving throws. The two thieves are both very attractive and will attempt to use this to their benefit. [B3 – 24]
The thieves will have the following on them: dungeon pack C; 21 cp, 7 sp, 15 gp, wolfsbane (Duchess only), and a string of pearls worth 600 gp (Candella only). [B3 – 24]
Take note of the picture included in the module. I would hazard the guess that Candella is the blonde, since it is she depicted wearing a necklace.

Tom expounded on why they were there, in his castle, though, weaving them into his backstory, which differed from hers.
Candella and Duchess
They were trying to loot the rooms of Mirabilis before the disaster struck. Mirabilis caught them and put them to sleep with a sleep spell. He was going to clean up and then report them to the guards, but disaster struck first. The women thieves were not affected by the disaster. They have only recently awoken and are setting out to loot the palace. The scroll they are looking at is just a sketch of a black cat.
[B3 – 24]
But he did not deviate from their choice of deception.
These two thieves will act friendly toward the party. They will pretend to be young inexperienced fighters in search of adventure. They will politely ask to join the party, saying that they are not quite as tough or as prepared for adventuring as they had originally thought.  [B3 – 24]

He then elaborated on how they might be played.
If they join the party the two thieves will wait for a good chance to steal whatever they can (either by trying to pick pockets or just grabbing any loot in sight), and then run away. [B3 – 24]
This shows patience on their part, in keeping with their above average wisdom.
If the thieves are not allowed to join the party, but are not attacked, they will try to get close enough to a character to try to pick that person's pockets. If discovered, they will claim that the person made a mistake, that they merely bumped into the person by accident. If successful they will leave with their loot. [B3 – 24]
Demon Bait_Candella and Duchess
Either way, the girls are going to steal from the PCs, at the first opportunity, it would seem. I would suggest that both will not make the attempt, only one will, most likely Candella, while Duchess distracts the PCs. To me, this seems out of character, and that the girls would not place themselves in such quick jeopardy, unless the PCs were so foolish as to display, or brag about, rather valuable, or more importantly, “useful” magical items that would ensure their survival and escape from this obviously dangerous situation they’ve found themselves in. Desperate measures, and all that….
Remember, these are wise and intelligent ladies, and not rash, nor foolish, in their pursuit of their ill-gotten gains.
When playing the roles of NPCs the DM should keep in mind that NPCs are reasonably normal persons. They seldom act suicidal, usually fighting only if there is a chance to win. While they will take risks, they will seldom take unreasonable risks. In this particular encounter, the two thieves want loot. They are likely to try what- ever method offers the best possibilities for gaining the most loot at the least risk. [B3 – 24]

Tom goes on to declare our heroines expendable, in relation to the PCs, in his adventure. Which they would be, I suppose. The PCs are always front and centre, as they should be.
If Duchess and Candella are with the party, the doppleganger [sic] may choose one of them as a victim or one of the party members. Of course, if the doppleganger [sic] succeeds in killing its victim, and hides the corpse, it will pretend to be the new character. […] The doppleganger [sic] will continue to kill characters secretly until caught. [B3 – 24]
I declare their being expendable as short-sighted. Few NPCs are as evocative, in my opinion. Actually, there are a lot of “indispensable” NPCs stowed away in a lot of modules; you just have to keep an eye out for them.

Take this NPC, “found” in G3 The Hall of the Fire Giant King, for instance:
Duchess in Distress
12c. Human female (11th level thief: […] Strength 15, Intelligence 15, Wisdom 8, Dexterity 18, Constitution 16, Charisma 17) chained to the wall. She will gladly admit to being a thief caught trying to find the King's treasure room, and volunteer to aid the party faithfully for a chance to escape. If opportunity presents itself, she will heist as much in gems and magic as she can and then slip away, but until then she will actually help the party. Of course, during this time she will be casing each character to learn what he or she carries…
[G3 – 9]
I’m reminded of Duchess and Candella. Duchess, in this case, owing to her dark locks.
Her stats don’t match our heroine…
Duchess: AL N; S 11, I 12, W 15, D 16, C 18 Ch 15
…but that’s of no never mind. Stats are as stats used. What’s important is her capricious thanks, reminiscent of our “point in case.”
These two thieves will act friendly toward the party. They will pretend to be young inexperienced fighters in search of adventure. They will politely ask to join the party, saying that they are not quite as tough or as prepared for adventuring as they had originally thought.
If they join the party the two thieves will wait for a good chance to steal whatever they can (either by trying to pick pockets or just grabbing any loot in sight), and then run away. [B3 – 24]
I suggest that we swap out this NPC with our Duchess? Why? Because I wish it; and because D & C are my favourite foils. When I say foils, I’m suggesting how useful our girls can be. They can be love interests. Lovely, lovable, loyal to a fault… Or not… Depending on their whim.
As to their capricious nature, they could be instrumental in absconding with what items you’ve mistakenly lavished upon your PCs. That said, this should not be an overused plot device. This might be a one-shot-deal occurrence.
I would ensure their inexpendability before attempting such a thing: they’re a font of expositionary lore, they’ve rescued the PCs when all seemed lost, delivered them from sure defeat more than once, pawned a thing or two, or delivered some much-needed graft when the PCs could not. Whatever.

Candella and Duchess
Consider the case above. The PCs were engaged to deal with recent giant raids; one thing leads to another, and as the PCs are readying to reconnoiter the Snurre’s fortress, they come across Candella. She tells them that Duchess has gone missing. She’d heard about Snurre’s wealth and took it upon herself to relieve him of some of it. But she bit off more than she could chew. And Candella is intent on a desperate rescue mission, willing to spin any yarn she might imagine to get the PCs to aid her in that regard. She need not have to. They must. They owe the two of them too much to not help. To say nothing about whether Bill’s character Aragorn is in love with her….

“We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are.”
― Anaïs Nin

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.

The Art:
Duchess and Candella original art (unpublished)
A Secret respite cover, by Domenico Neziti (nezart), from CRK B3 A Secret Respite, The Folio
Candella and Duchess, by Harry Quinn, from B3 Palace of the Silver Princess, 1981
Demon Bait, by Domenico Neziti (nezart)
Captured Thief, by David Trampier, from G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King, 1978

9025 World of Greyhawk Folio, 1980
1015 World of Greyhawk Boxed Set, 1983
2009 Monster Manual 1e, 1977, 1978
2011A Dungeon Masters Guide, 1st Ed., 1979
9018 G3 Hall of the Fire Mountain King, 1978
9044 B3 Palace of the Silver Princess, 1981
9058 G123 Against the Giants, 1978, 1981

Wednesday, 18 May 2022

Because I could not stop for Death


He kindly stopped for me
Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
And Immortality.

We slowly drove, he knew no haste,
And I had put away
My labor, and my leisure too,
For his civility.

We passed the school where children played,
Their lessons scarcely done;
We passed the fields of gazing grain,
We passed the setting sun.

We paused before a house that seemed
A swelling of the ground;
The roof was scarcely visible,
The cornice but a mound.

Since then 't is centuries; but each
Feels shorter than the day
I first surmised the horses' heads
Were toward eternity.

Because I could not stop for Death
—Emily Dickenson, from Poems: Series 1, 1890

The Art:
All art is wholly owned by the artists 

Thursday, 12 May 2022

Thoughts on A6 Die, Marquessa, Die!

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal:
it is the courage to continue that counts.”
― Winston S. Churchill

A6 Die, Marquessa, Die!
A brave fellowship of heroes failed last year to bring the notorious villainess known as The Marquessa to justice—and as a result, the innocent folk of the land have suffered greatly. However, the elusive and sinister enchantress has been located once again, giving the forces of weal another opportunity to extinguish the grim silhouette she casts across the region.
  [A6 – cover]

Thus begins Carlos Lising’s second installment of his continuing expansion of his A series, where the said fellowship of heroes again endeavour to put an end to “Marquessa’s” dastardly deeds, once and for all.
Who is Marquessa? She’s an homage to Markessa. See my post Thoughts on A5 Kill Markessa! for further details. If you aren’t familiar with who Markessa is, then you haven’t been reading this blog, or own the original A series of tournament modules released by TSR in 1980 and 1981. The short version is that Markessa is one of the Flesh Traders [Slavelords] who terrorized the Tanraeg [Gearnat] Sea and Wooly Bay coasts in 584 CY, and returned in Chris Pramas’ and Sean Reynold’s sequel (in 2000 AD, not CY) to do it all over again.
Be advised that I will adhere to Carlos’ spelling throughout this review [except where noted].
This, like Carlos’ A5 adventure, is a tournament module, first played at GaryCon in Lake Geneva in 2017. It was designed for OSRIC, very much a sibling to 1st edition AD&D, so if you have that elderly rule set you will be able to run it without any conversion. It’s intended for characters 7th to 11th level. A Wandering Monster Table is included for campaign play, not tournament play.
Have I played it? No. Have I Dm’ed it? No. You can cease reading here now, if that admission renders my opinion irrelevant to you. I do own a hardcopy of the adventure, and Carlos has graciously bequeathed me a digital copy that I might review his effort. I have read it, obviously—commenting on the adventure would have been difficult, otherwise—extensively, I might mention. With a critical eye.

Still with me?
As noted above, the heroes failed in that endeavour the prior year at GaryCon 2016. (That might depend on the session, but their failure is presumed in the blurb on the cover.) One should not be too harsh. It’s no easy task defeating high level NPCs. The odds were stacked against them, what with Marquessa’s paranoia. Security in her complex was tight.
Once a party of adventurers is detected inside the fortification complex, the guards will raise the alarm. This will generally be done by means of an alarm switch (with which every room is equipped) that sounds a great klaxon within the facility. […] Should the alarm switch be thrown, the entirety of the fortification will be alerted at the end of the turn in which it is sounded.
[A5 – 2]
Is this a spoiler? One might think so, but this strategy is all but identical to that in A2.
And she had always prepared means of escape.
Markessa has a contingency spell cast upon herself that should she be reduced to 10 or fewer hit points, she will be teleported to the home of a charmed ally in Furyondy. [Slavers – 105]
Aside from that, she has always fought smart. She wants to win. And she wants to survive.
If things are going badly for her she will either cast her darkness spell and flee or she will pick up a flask off of a shelf and throw it down to smash on the floor. The contents of the flask will form a blue cloud of smoke, 10‘ radius, that cannot be seen through. Anyone caught in the smoke will find that it stings their eyes and blinds them for 1 round after they leave the cloud. [A2 - 27]

We know that the fellowship of heroes put Marquessa’s minions to the sword in A5, but while doing so the alarm was raised and Marquessa escaped, or if she was confronted, she fled when she deemed her defense hopeless; either way, they failed in their quest, and one of the Flanaess’ most heinous villains escaped, yet again.
Unfortunately, this new fellowship failed in their aim. Though they managed to kill Marquessa's loyal henchman, the sly Storm Zothculb, the enchantress herself learned of their presence in her labyrinthine stronghold and used her potent magics to teleport herself away to a position of safety. [A6 – 1]
Far be it for Marquessa not to hold a grudge.
Leander Hatgled
Marquessa is not the sort of woman who takes threats upon her person lightly or with any sort of sense of humor. After the failure of Hatgled's mercenaries to lay her low, it was a relatively simple process for her agents in Diver to discover his role in the attempted assassination. Afterwards, she mustered the Fulvous Reavers – a powerful group of men and humanoids that have remained loyal to the Flesh Traders and their lieutenants even a decade after their defeat in Mahredus – and set them upon the mage's tower with a mandate to bring its master before her to face the consequences of his impetuousness. This collection of villains and blackhearts found far more success than Hatgled's mercenaries in this venture, dispatching most of the wizard's henchmen and men-at-arms on their way to overwhelming and subduing the lord of the tower. His fate, left to Marquessa's tender mercies, is better left to the imagination than explicitly described.
[A6 – 2]
And far be it for Marquessa to not be thorough in her retribution.
A score of his mercenaries, each one a potent warrior, were found slaughtered within his home. The wizard was never seen again. Perhaps even more terrible, after he returned to the village of his birth from his failed mission, the redoubtable paladin amongst the fellowship discovered that the entirety of the community had disappeared. His family, his friends...all vanished like morning dew beneath sunrise. All that remained was a simple note, written in an elegant feminine script:
Freedom, fleeting as the petal of a rose. –M.
[A6 – 1]

Marquessa’s reaction is typical of what we would expect of her. She’s, if anything, thorough. She’s a survivor, after all. Granted, one or two were likely to slip her net; someone who, perchance, might already be looking over her shoulder….
Skye, The Lioness
Still, a scant few of Leander Hatgled's allies managed to survive the assault upon his home. One of these was a woman named Skye, the Lioness, who had ascended to a place of trust within the mage's retinue. A wizard of no small power herself, Hatgled was unaware that Skye was in truth an agent of the mysterious Colorless Mage of Perrengaard, reporting his activities and noteworthy information she collected while performing duties as his henchman. With her allegiances elsewhere, it bothered Skye little to go into hiding with her familiar (a massive grizzly bear named Ursula) when it was clear that the battle with the Fulvous Reavers had turned in the favor of the enemy, teleporting to a place of safety far from the fray.
Yet, even as a black plume of roiling smoke rose from the top of the sacked tower of Leander Hatgled, Skye would receive a sending from her master to remain in Diver. Warriors from the north would arrive in but a night to reinforce her and aid her in a new mission. The task of reforging the fellowship that had failed to lay Marquessa the Enchantress low before had fallen to her. This group of powerful worthies would be sent forth once more to finish the job they had started and regain their honor, in the process. [A6 – 2]

The stage is set. The props do raise some questions, though.
Skye seems a little dodgy, to my mind. Her loyalty lies elsewhere, and not to Leander Hatgled, at all. Who might this Colourless Mage of Perrengaard be? Why does he care what goes on in the Tanraeg? It matters not a whit if you are just running this as a tournament. Motivations and McGuffins are a means to an end. These questions need answering, however, should this adventure be slipped into an ongoing campaign.
So, who exactly is this Colourless Mage? What’s he all about? Why does he hate Marquessa so, that he sent a trusted agent into harms way to spy on Leander Hatgled and report on his ongoing war with the dire elf?
Grist for the mill, I’d say.

As to the powerful worthies sent forth, these Pregens are the same as those made available in A5. Their gear is identical. They include:
Our Heroes
Marya Hammerfist, 8th level Dwarf Female Fighter
Quenden Tasander, 6th level Elf Male Fighter / 6th level Magic-User
Sildan Enathwrel, 8th level Elf Male Magic-User
Ilsandre Sunshower, 6th level Gnome Female Illusionist / 6th level Thief
Jaran Braxx, 7th level Half-Elf Male Ranger
Telvas Thistlewine, 8th level Halfling Male Thief
Khâzratha Ironthews, 7th level Half-Orc Female Cleric
Lyandra Yrsanthi, 6th level Human Female Cleric / 6th level Magic-User
Merranen Eagleheart, 8th level Human Male Druid
Ravella Zaar, 8th level Human Female Illusionist
Brother Lyrwend, 8th level Human Male Monk
Kendrel Rilsheven, 7th level Human Male Paladin
Players may choose among them, or play their own characters, advice given in every classic adventure module ever published.

I will not spoil what happens within the adventure’s covers. Carlos wants to sell it, after all.
I will say that it will be challenging for players, more so than A5 was, I wager; as it should be: Marquessa has been tipped off by that earlier assault that there are worthy adversaries hunting her; and one might expect that after that earlier ordeal, she will be better prepared, and that she will be holed up in a far more secure bunker than she was the first time. This is not to say that A5 was a cake walk. I expect it was not.
One should expect that she has surrounded herself with equally worthy minions. Because she has. All are fugitives, in one way or another; and all are fitting companions to their mistress.
In her employ are a hot-tempered sociopath, Hargrath Gernad, the Headless Lion of Hicrets [Sterich]; a paranoid Lesser Heirarch of the Six-Fingered Society [the Horned Society], named Ranzir, on the run from the Empire of Zuii [Iuz]; and Lady Tazmin il-Varzii, a fallen Paladin who was once in the service of the Great God of the North [—an albino noted as Xuloise {Suloise}, I’ll go out on a limb and say that she’s Schnai]. Marquessa’s right hand man is the extremely formidable Azaak Tolin, from The Black Heath [Blackmoor].
A relevant history is given for each of Marquessa’s entourage. So too their personalities. These will be far more useful for the module’s inclusion into a larger, and longer, campaign, but will also help the DM give each life should the PCs get chatty with their opponents before engaging with them.
The history of Marquessa’s fortress is given in the Campaign notes, as well. You might imagine it’s a dark one, and in that you’d be correct.

The maps given are simple, concise, and functional. Room descriptions are equally clear and concise.
The bound maps are grey in colour, and look to be computer generated. Carlos was kind enough to donate a digital copy for my review purpose (to which I am grateful), and that has B&W maps. I prefer these. I printed copies of the maps and doodled in what was described for each room, to better understand the layout and how the furniture might help or hinder combat and can say that everything stated fits with ease. I’ve always found dungeon rooms to be a little large for my liking—let’s call them unnecessarily spacious—what with what I know about subterranean excavations, and these are no different. The 40’ span of certain rooms appear enormous to my mind’s eye. Why are they so large, I wonder? Battle maps, maybe? Minis? I wonder why the adventure is laid out as it is, too. I assume because doing so afforded the greatest challenge to players. Carlos has a reputation as a masterful, and much sought after, DM at conventions, so I don’t doubt that it is so for just that reason. One thing is certain: should the players by chance choose a specific route they would bypass much, if not most, of the potential encounters and expedite their confrontation with Marquessa, the only way they could possibly face Her Vileness, what with the security measures she has in place.
They had best be quick about it, too, if they’re going to catch the Sculptress of Flesh, because if they learned anything last time, she’s a tough nut to crack, and if they fail again, they had better fear what she’ll do to exact revenge afterwards!

Is this a good adventure module? I think it is.
Is it worth the money? I think it is, too. Especially if you’re a fan of the Greyhawk setting. Little has been created for it outside of fandom, most of it either in Canonfire! And the Oerth Journal. Indeed, the setting was all but unsupported for decades since the Living Greyhawk Campaign folded decades earlier. In fact, I might suggest that fans of the setting would be remiss to not support those authors and game designers willing to take the time and effort to create and publish new content for the venerable Flanaess.

What do you get for your money?
The adventure hardcopy is staple bound, with glossy cardstock cover. The actual adventure is 20 pages in length of the total 64 pages. There is no interior artwork. Marquessa is extensively detailed, as are 4 of her lieutenants; and each PC is given 2 full pages, ideal as handouts. There are new monsters and new magic items. There is a page for tournament scoring, one for the Open Gaming Licence, and 2 for maps.

Just remember that should the players fail again, they should take heart, because:
“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”
― Winston S. Churchill

The Art:
Die, Marquessa, Die! cover art, by Chet Minton, 2017
Markessa by mli13, originally published in A0-4 Against the Slavers, 2013
Markessa detail, by Bill Willingham (?), from A2 Secret of the Slavers Stockade, 1981
OSRIC cover, by Mark Ahmed, 2006
Die, Marquessa, Die! map, from the digital copy, 2017

2011A Dungeon Masters Guide, 1st Ed., 1979
2010, Players Handbook, 1st Ed, 1978
2160 Dungeon Masters Guide Revised, 2nd Ed., 1989/1995
2159, Players Handbook Revised, 2nd Ed., 1989/1995
OSRIC, 2006
9040 A2 Secret of the Slaver’s Stockade, 1981
11621 Slavers, 2000
A5 Kill Marquessa! casl Entertainment, 2016
A6 Die, Marquessa, Die! casl Entertainment, 2017
A7 Marquessa, Thy Name is Evil, casl Entertainment, 2018