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The Adventures, My Friends, Are Blowing In The Wind

Here are some adventure ideas based on last week’s post about windmills on medieval maps.

1. Murder Mystery – The town has suffered a rash of thefts and vandalism; Windows have been broken including the stained glass of the church. Jewelry taken from bedrooms while their occupants slept. Small mirrors vanishing. Silver and gold pieces plucked from counter tops when nobody is looking. The incidents seem random and no suspects have been identified.

The old windmill on the outskirts of town has been abandoned for many years. Stories tell of the miller going mad and murdering his workers, whose souls are said to still haunt the place. Two nights ago a watchman noticed flashes of light glinting from the mill as the sun set, its blades glittering in many colors. Investigators approaching the windmill will see that the tattered cloth sails of the blades have been replaced with a thick mass of black feathers with all manner of shiny objects, including broken glass and the stolen items, woven into the bizarre tapestry.

Stranger still is the enormous flock of crows gathered around the windmill, silently watching the investigators. As the setting sun’s rays begin to glint off the illicitly adorned windmill’s blades the entire flock begins to beat its wings, creating an unnatural wind. The sails begin to turn, causing a hypnotic glare to be thrown across the town.

2. Drawing Conclusions – The court magician was well known to be a bit off, but he served the king well and his knowledge of unearthly beasts saved the city against the forces of chaos. So when he asked to move from his tower into the city’s great windmill, the king was happy to grant the request.

In the years of peace that followed the magician became more and more absorbed in his studies. He has sent out adventurers to retrieve all manner of arcane objects for him, including strange inks and feathers from increasingly exotic and powerful winged beings. Other magic users speculate that he is researching spells related to the wind, possibly looking to tap into the Elemental Plane of Air itself.

The magician has also begun drawing strange figures on the sails of the windmill, having several more blades installed to accommodate his designs. One of the adventurers or a local bard may remember having seen devices meant to entertain children that have figures drawn on a wheel. When the wheel is spun it gives the illusion of movement to the figures. The magician may be planning something similar on a much larger scale, but to what end? And the figures he is drawing don’t appear to be any creature you’d find in the sane world.

3. Fe Fi Fo Fum – The town has suffered a rash of grave robberies and a reward has been posted for anyone who can solve the case. Investigations of local magicians and surgeons have turned up nothing. A warren of ghoul tunnels may be discovered, but the ghouls within have already been destroyed. Recently by the looks of it.

A new miller has been producing fine flour, which the baker has been turning into a most excellent bread. The bread is so good that it has become the talk of the barony and demand among the nobles has made the miller and baker quite wealthy.

Years ago the miller and baker were clerics in the cannibalistic Cult of Vaprak. The cult was crushed by the baron’s forces and the other clerics tortured and executed for their crimes. The two survivors swore revenge.

The clerics are behind the grave robberies. They are grinding the bones in the mill and using it as flour for the fine bread. The Feast of Vaprak approaches and on that day they will unleash a curse that will cause all who have eaten the consecrated bread to transform into ogres.

4. Winds of Change – The sea walls of the port city are lined with a battery of unusual windmills. These windmills are capable of generating gales powerful enough to swamp ships and through their magic the city has resisted all invaders. The mills also create gentler winds, capable of speeding allied ships on their way. This has lead to peace and prosperity for many generations.

Recently there have been accidents; a ship blown off course, a storm drawn in instead of repelled. Most recently a group of fishing boats were overturned when the mills’ winds unexpectedly surged with power.

The secret of the windmills is that the wizards’ guild summoned and enslaved Air Elementals to power them. Over the decades the wards have begun to weaken as the guild became complacent. There are few remaining who have the skill and power to restore the wards. To do so will also require rare ingredients and adventurers to retrieve them.

If they fail the Air Elementals will break their bonds and wreak vengeance on the city. A vengeance that some would consider justified. Guild spies are ready to eliminate anyone who discovers the secret of the windmills, especially among the adventurers in the guild’s employ.

5. When the Wind Blows – A great mountain towers over the city and at its peak is the opening of a mighty cavern. Smoke has begun to emerge from the cavern’s mouth.

This heralds the awakening of Ashterath, an ancient red dragon of terrible power. Long ago Ashterath’s fire destroyed entire cities and the plunder of kings was taken for his bed. Armies fell before the dragon’s might.

The reign of terror was finally ended when the Goddess of Night Breezes sent four artifacts down to her faithful clerics. These artifacts were large whistles, cast from mithril and adorned with diamonds. The whistles were attached to the sails of a windmill standing in the shadows of Ashterath’s mountain and as the blades turned the whistles generated soothing music that lulled the dragon into an enchanted sleep.

The whistles of the goddess have been kept safe within the vaults of her temple, or so everyone thought. When the vault was opened the reliquary was empty except for a silver ring engraved with the symbol of Dirk Tongue-Lasher, the legendary Thief of the North.

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Have you ever used a windmill in your game? Do you have any more adventure seeds? I’d love to hear them.

If you’re looking for inspiration, I recommend checking out the 1937 cartoon short, The Old Mill. It’s a classic piece of Disney animation. I would expect Mouse Guard players in particular could get some mileage out of it.

OldMill1

Plus it has bats! I’m kind of partial to bats.

 
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Posted by on July 10, 2014 in Dungeon Design, Fantasy

 

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Least Favorite Monster

Back on track with the 30 Day D&D Challenge!

Today’s question:

23. What is your Least Favorite Monster Overall?

My least favorite monster is the Tarasque.

This is a surprise because I am a huge fan of kaiju.  I love Godzilla, Gamera, King Ghidorah, and all their kind.  I am waiting in rapt anticipation for Pacific Rim to come out on DVD.  I love nothing better than someone in a giant monster suit stomping through a model city.

I also love the historical aspects of monsters in D&D, including the Tarasque.  The Tarasque of legend was a giant dragon-like monster that ravaged through France.  It was the spawn of the biblical Leviathan and burned everything it touched.  Sculptures and pictures show it with a turtle shell and beast-like face and the stories tell of catapult stones bouncing off its scales and how it slayed armies of knights that came against it.

Despite all that, I don’t like the D&D Tarasque.  It’s a ridiculously powerful monster that is capable of slaughtering legions of high level adventurers with ease.  This isn’t a monster designed to be fought by player characters, this is a monster meant to be avoided, or bound by relic-level artifacts, or meant to battle the gods themselves.  Even then the Tarasque is powerful enough to require a party of deities to fight it.  This brings up the question, what is its purpose?

In a world with the Tarasque all other beings are overshadowed.  Dragons and lich lose their sting and the terrifying appeal of the demon lords vanishes.  “Thank goodness it’s only Tiamat and not the Tarasque,” is not something I want to hear from my players.

If you are running a game for a party of aspiring demi-gods from the Immortals Basic D&D rules, then the Tarasque would be appropriate.  But as a monster for AD&D it’s just too much of the wrong kind of menace.

However, if I had five PCs each with their own Apparatus of Kwalish, and they could all combine into one gigantic magical mecha, I might change my mind.  “Form Blazing Vorpal Sword!

France has the city of Tarascon, with the Tarasque on its coat of arms. That’s pretty darn cool.

 
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Posted by on September 23, 2013 in Gaming

 

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Favorite Dragon and Favorite Monster

It was a busy weekend so I’ll play catch-up today.

Catching up with the 30 Day D&D Challenge!

Question 21:

What is your Favorite Dragon Type?

This is another tough one, but I’ve got to go with the classic, a fire-breathing red dragon.  From Smaug to the dragon who slew Beowulf, the fire-breathing dragon is the classic breed.  Burned cities and fields are the signs of their passing and forests of ash herald their lair.  I like all the evil dragon types, the blue in particular appeals to me with its lightning breath, but the red reigns supreme.

Question 22:

What is your Favorite Monster Overall?

My favorite monster overall is going to be the undead in general.  The undead are flexible, menacing, and iconic.  You can have an army of skeletons lead by a mummy, a vampire stalking a town, or a lich menacing an entire kingdom.  If you want to build a world with only one flavor of menace, the undead would be a great choice.  And as mentioned in my earlier post, the lich is my favorite undead.

 

 
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Posted by on September 23, 2013 in Gaming

 

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Favorite Aberration

Day 16 of the 30 Day D&D Challenge!

Today’s question:

16. What is your Favorite Aberration?

This is a real challenge, because this is one of the places Dungeons & Dragons shines.  The Monster Manual, Fiend Folio, and Monster Manual II excel at giving us bizarre monstrosities to torment our players with.  Owl Bears, Hook Horrors, Shambling Mounds, and so many iconic creatures skulking in the darkness just waiting for the chance to pounce.

For a long time the Mind Flayer was my favorite, but they became played out.  Partially because they became more prominent in D&D lore, partially because I played a lot of Call of Cthulhu, the mind-blasting tentacled horrors lost their allure.  The Githyanki also captured my imagination from the moment I first saw the cover of the Fiend Folio.  Russ Nicholson’s byzantine illustrations of these powerful corpse-like foes of the Mind Flayers was very compelling.  Combined with their silver swords and history as former thralls of their ancient foes, they were wonderfully horrible beings.  Their cousins the Githzerai never held as much appeal, being too human in appearance.

These days picking my favorite aberration means going back to basics and there is nothing more basic that the dragon.  Dragons and their kin invoke powerful reactions, they’re part of our common mythology and their arrival on the scene is guaranteed to be a game changer.  Players never say, “oh, it’s a dragon.”  Instead they start checking their stash of magical weapons, preparing their spells, and hoping they have enough healing to get the job done.  Dragonfear sends hirelings scattering to the winds and their breath weapons are so dangerous they have their own dedicated saving throw.  I have a definite affinity for the different colored dragons and their various breath weapons.  I also love the dragon’s cousins; wyverns, hyrdra, basilisks, behir, and the others.  They provide a tremendous and lethal variety to throw at your players.

There’s a reason the game is named after them.

It’s probably best they don’t turn around, they’re way too low level for Vermithrax.

 
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Posted by on September 16, 2013 in Gaming

 

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Day 12, Favorite Dungeon Type/Location

Day 12 of the 30 Day Challenge!

Today’s question:

12. What is your Favorite Dungeon Type or Location?

Nothing catches my imagination more than a good lost city, preferably of the underground type.  I love the archetypal dwarven realm, twisting deep into the bones of the earth.  I love the cliche of digging too deep and unleashing forgotten horrors, or tampering with secrets mortals were not meant to know.

Tolkien was a master of great and deep realms.  I wanted to hear more about what the Fellowship found while traveling through Moria.  I wanted to read about it’s fall to the balrog and of the last stand of Balin when he attempted to restore the kingdom.  Tolkien’s elves were no slackers when it came to underground cities and the fall of Nargothrond to the dragon Glaurung.  Beren’s quest into the pits of Angband is another of my favorites.

For non-Tolkien stories, the twisting chambers beneath Castle Amber from the Nine Princes in Amber series was another of my favorites, with the chamber holding the Great Pattern and Corwin’s cell with Dwarkin’s paintings, to the hints of other mysteries down its dark corridors.  And no discussion of lost cities is complete without mentioning the Conan story Red Nails.

It’s no wonder that a game named Dungeons & Dragons had such an easy time capturing my imagination.

Derinkuyu, a real-world city deep beneath the surface.

 
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Posted by on September 12, 2013 in Gaming

 

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Favorite Deity

Continuing the 30 Day D&D Challenge from Polar Bear Dreams and Stranger Things:

6. Favorite Deity:

There’s a short list of contenders for this spot, but when we get down to brass tacks the winner for my favorite deity is:

Tiamat!

tiamat

She’s angry because the game should be called
Dragons & Dungeons.

Take a monster goddess from the oldest epic in history, give her an extra four heads, color code them to the D&D evil dragon types, and put her in charge of the first of the Nine Hells.  When your game is called Dungeons & Dragons, the queen of all evil dragons is about as epic as it gets.

This sentiment was shared by the creators of the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon series where she was a recurring character.  The show overall was a simple battle between good and evil carried out each week, but Tiamat’s role in that universe was unique.  More powerful than the show’s main villain, possibly more powerful than the enigmatic Dungeon Master, she cared nothing for their struggles.  Tiamat was a force beyond that.  She was a being of rage to be feared by everyone and whose motives were known only to herself.  It is debatable how well the series captured the spirit of its namesake game, but they captured the essence of Tiamat perfectly.

Newer editions of D&D have given a more “human” side to Tiamat, complete with a human avatar.  This is probably the fault of Takhisis, her analog in Dragonlance who fills a different cosmological role.  Humanizing Tiamat misses what makes her such an interesting being.  Our mythology has demons and devils vying for our souls, making Faustian bargains with the most lowly peasants and giving us a false belief in our own importance.  But Tiamat is a dragon-goddess and her followers are as far beyond us as we are above vermin.  She cares more for our gold than our souls and that should give us pause.

I loved the random tables for stocking dungeons that were included in the Monster Manual and Fiend Folio, with each successive table presenting a list of more powerful creatures your players might encounter.  I remember the surprise and fascination I felt seeing Tiamat listed on the last table.  The idea of coming around the corner and stumbling into the Chromatic Dragon was both ludicrous and appropriate at the same time.

Why would Tiamat be wandering the depths of some random dungeon?  I have no idea.  I’m just the DM and Tiamat does not explain herself to me.

 
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Posted by on September 6, 2013 in Gaming

 

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