The Happy Heart, no longer

The adventurers, and the once-famous ranger Johari, have returned to the village of Frickley as giant-conquering, local heros. Most of the village has converged on The Happy Heart inn to celebrate the end of a fearful time and drink to those that delivered them from the threat. Innkeeper Ludlow Elber and his sister are doing their best to keep the ale flowing (and copper coming). Even if you discount the men and one woman who strode back into town carrying the ears and hands of two ferocious hill giants, the evening has been full of surprises.

Several strangers have picked tonight to become patrons of this out-of-the-way tavern. A grey-haired man in chainmail with a somewhat martial bearing, and a young, mace-carrying acolyte – his wrists bound in red cord – have made themselves at home over in one corner. The older man has been generous with coin, but have kept themselves to themselves throughout the twilight hours. Though, Ludlow swears he saw them talking to the Giant Slayers on their return. Another pair of travellers arrived when the night was in full swing – a portly and wealthy-looking farmer from Triboar way, accompanied by a beautiful red-haired woman with a grubby face that one would assume is his daughter. At least, he is chastising her as one would an unruly child, apologising each time she bursts loudly into song.

Most unusually, shortly after the hero’s arrived, a wild boar of enormous proportions charged down from the upstairs rooms, breaking the bannister and splintering one half of the front door. It appears to have then dug up Old Jack’s snowblossom patch and turned the horse trough on its side, before disappearing into the night. Nobody is sure how the beast got upstairs, but Murt the cooper reckons that the cross-looking elf with the quarterstaff might be a wizard, and when strange stuff happens around wizards you’re best just accepting it and not asking any questions that might get you turned into a river pebble or thrown into the sky.

At the bar, Murt is debating with Dugan – a blacksmith known for exclaiming ‘let’s get this done!’, before not doing whatever ‘this’ is. As they converse, Ludlow is considering what to do with the six foot diameter gong of beaten copper that the adventurers have left partially blocking the kitchen hatch. 

Murt frowned, then took a slow sip from his flagon. ‘The Five Giant Cutters.’

‘Sounds agricultural.’ Dugan was wearing a similar expression of concentration.

‘Okay, The Five Giant Killers.’

‘Nah, sounds like the killers are huge. How about Death to Giants?’

‘Not very celebratory, is it? What about The Severed Giant Hand and Ear?’

Murt winced. ‘I wouldn’t eat there’.

They both stared into their respective drinks. Behind them, the raucous tavern was joining together in an old, rude Sword Coast shanty. Amongst the din, a young woman is singing a nonsensical song of her own; clear and sharp, and completely out of tune.

‘What did that bard say his name was?’

‘Which one is the bard?’

‘The one with the lute and the grin.’

Ludlow looked up from his efforts to shift the gong a few feet. ‘Argo. The bard’s name is Argo. He introduced himself twice.’

‘Looks heavy that, Ludlow,’ observed Dugan.

‘Yes.’ An involutary grunt. ‘Yes, it is.’

Murt sat upright suddenly. ‘Argo’s Giant Gong.’

Ludlow let the metal circle fall back against the wall with a sonorous clang. ‘No. No way. And I didn’t say I would definitely rename it, anyway.’

‘Well you wouldn’t have an inn if Johari and these fellows hadn’t sorted out those giants, would you?’ Dugan was now taking a slightly slurred paternal tone.

Murt nodded in agreement. ‘We’ve got to commemorate what they’ve done for us. Besides, it’s a better story.’

Ludlow, now pouring more ale for the pressing throng, raised an eyebrow. ‘Yep, three more, I know – uh, story?’

‘Travellers talk, don’t they? We could put Frickley on the map!’

‘Frickley is on the map.’

‘No, I mean this place, with its new name – it could be this busy every night!’

A look of horror crossed Ludlow’s face. ‘Every night?’

Dugan slammed his cup down on the bar, sloshing beer over his hand. ‘The Four and a Half Heroes.’

Murt didn’t look impressed. ‘Is that because one of them’s a gnome?’

‘Yeah, what’s wrong with that? It’s funny.’

‘That gnome just killed a bunch of giants. If I was going to poke fun at one of his kind, I probably wouldn’t start with him.’

‘Good point. Okay, The Five Men of Valour.’

Murt scoffed. ‘Johari’s a woman.’

‘She fights like a man. It’s a compliment.’

‘Yeah, of the sort that gets you decapitated.’

‘Another good point. Hmm… maybe we should ask one of them.’

‘Which one? The wiry one with the red hair is over there. He looks…’ Murt downed the last of his flagon, furtively glancing over his shoulder at the leather-clad stranger sitting on the staircase. ‘…dangerous.’

‘The elf seems friendly,’ mused Dugan. ‘In a murderous sort of way. Did you see the scar on his hand?’

‘No. No, I didn’t. I’d ask the little guy, but don’t want to wake up tomorrow with a curse. Or, not wake up tomorrow – with a curse.’

‘Can gnomes do that?’

‘Reckon that one could. Dark look in his eyes, and he’s got this weird looking gemstone on a chain round his neck.’

‘The bard then.’

‘Aye, the bard. Argo.’

‘With the lute.’


‘And the rapier.’

Dugan and Murt sat silently, contemplating their vessels, the noise of the other patrons continuing unabated.

After a few moments, Dugan looked across at his companion. ‘Another drink first, perhaps?’

‘Aye. Another drink.’ Murt nodded to the harried innkeeper and pushed the empty flagons forward. ‘Best not to crowd these giant slayer types.’


Keep your Fiends close

More than any other class, choosing a Warlock brings story. Of course, clerics, monks, paladins and druids all start with a purpose; a direction and a strong link to something bigger and pre-existing in the world (or an adjacent plane). And the intention of the character creation system in fifth edition is to give even the most straightforward of classes (hi, fighter!) the possibility of fleshing out into a person that’s wrapped up in history, intrigue and connection (hi, disgraced Iluskan noble, sentenced to death but now free with a new name, having earned her freedom as a gladiator, and now determined to get even with the powerful family that betrayed her!).

But Warlocks get a head start, and a certain inevitable influence on the direction of a campaign. As a DM, it’s very difficult to ignore that even a day one, level one group with a warlock, are shadowed by a vastly powerful extra-planar entity, its plans and designs entwined with theirs.

Or not? What if the deed – the mortal obligation in this pact – has already been done? That’s the case in my campaign. Lythrin, an outlander raised by elves in Neverwinter Wood, was persuaded to do something terrible in exchange for Power. But this ‘something’ was only a catalyst for a greater evil, a component of a ritual that has, perhaps, caused far greater harm. So, even though the pact and its intent are in the past, the stone dropped into the pond has made ripples that are still moving, bouncing back and forth, and changing the game world in unforeseen ways.

Either way, it brings us to motivation. An evil Warlock character, working consciously and nefariously for his dastardly patron is generally straightforward. A demonic patron from the Abyss could be particular so – your basic Demon being up for destruction, at varying levels of potency and sophistication. On the other hand (claw?), a Fiend from the Nine Hells desires power, and that potentially leads to more intrigue and subtlety. And a Great Old One’s machinations will likely be alien and unfathomable, but rarely leads to nice things happening to the good people of Faerûn.

But what about a Warlock that isn’t evil? What if they’re just a mortal at the wrong place at the wrong time, promised greatness, and now having to deal with the fallout? How would they feel about the creature they’ve done a deal with? And how would they like that relationship to proceed? The shadow hanging over them is not quite their friend, and not quite their enemy. So, what ya gonna do? Some options:

  1. Make your way in the world and hope this whole awkward, hellish matter goes away.
  2. Recognise that you are but a vessel for a vast and unholy darkness, and give yourself fully in service, and worship, to your patron.
  3. Delve into the mystery, the trickery, of your pact. Become a detective investigating a great crime, where the victim was you.
  4. Dedicate yourself to making amends for your transgression, striving against Evil in all its forms.
  5. Get payback. Seeking out the means to destroy the beast whose dark magic has part empowered you, part enslaved you.
  6. Severing the link. Is there a way out of this arrangement? What did the small print say? Maybe, just maybe…
  7. Something entirely unexpected.
  8. Two or more of the above.

As I said, a Warlock come preloaded with story. Which direction any particular campaign goes is obviously down to the particular Warlock and his fellow adventurers. It could become a memorable subplot. It could become the theme that frames the big story. Or it could be the main event.

Sooner or later, your pact is going to come back to haunt you.

In a good way.

On song

When asking the question of a Bard’s magic, you must understand the fundamentals.

A bard does not conjure up great feats of illusion from ancient tomes.

Nor does he plunder the netherworlds for pacts with great daemons and shower the earth with brimstone and fire.

These are the domains of the great wizards and warlocks. Their abilities seem limited only by their imagination and I know not how such immense power could be controlled.

A Bard’s strength comes from the music and the inner prose of a creatures soul.

To wield a Bard’s power is to attune to the very core of a man’s being. To understand his story so clearly that you could control his thoughts and his fears.

I have known a troubadour so great in his craft that he could sing the very life into the recently deceased.

Don’t underestimate the power of the song my boy, for it could raise the dead.

And remember it is always, absolutely, a matter of style.

Loric of Nightstone

As related to Argo Dragonverse. Words by DW.

The small matter of Giant’s Throne

The party arrive in a small village to the north east of Phandalin that’s got a hill giant problem. Daily visits. Threats. Little food left. Rumours of other nearby settlements suffering worse. The adventurers team up with septuagenarian ranger, Johari – a retired giantslayer, following up on an oath she made to the villagers, some 25 years ago.

Strangely, the hill giant – ‘King Bonecrusher’ – had installed itself in a cave that’s somehow significant to stone giants. And somehow found a way to open up a much larger complex (see below) that’s been more or less empty for centuries.

The additional areas to explore were not the only complications:

  • Goblins (there’s always goblins)
  • Intoxicating mushroom spores
  • Gargoyles; two of them made of crystal
  • A spurned offer of assistance from a dead elf (Lythrin’s hellish patron)
  • A vast statue of Annam, the All Father (creator of giants)
  • Bonecrusher, mid-worship, imploring the deity to ‘let him take his rightful place…’
  • A second (unexpected, furious, female) hill giant
  • Giant poisonous wolf spiders

Ranger Johari, elderly as she is, turns out to be fast, strong and lethal (once she got her breath and confidence back). But the considerably less experienced rogue, warlock, bard and wizard held their own.

Play of the game: either Goldmund shattering a crystal gargoyle’s skull with an expert shortbow shot into its snapping jaws, or Argo temporarily incapacitating Bonecrusher with a hurled glass sphere of Ether (despite almost knocking out Johari and Lythrin, too).

Eventually, the adventurers exit carrying arm loads of loot – mainly offerings to the All Father. Goldmund turns down his share. His upbringing has taught him that stealing from a god is a huge (giant) ‘no’. As they leave, they walk into four more giants – this time of the Stone variety. What has brought them here? Perhaps they have returned to reclaim their holy place? They ignore the party (‘the surface world is but a dream’) and seal the cave up behind them. Leaving the adventurers to return to the village as giant slaying heroes.

How many giants did they kill anyway? Two? Four? I heard it was ten…


Note: The original base of the layout was found here – one of many great maps by draughtsman Kevin Campbell. I just added/removed a few rooms (and some mushrooms). The story was a very heavily customised version of Giantslayer by Richard Jansen-Parkes and M.T. Black.



Bard magic: songs of not quite sorcery

This came out of a discussion with one of my players about what bard spellcasting should actually feel like. It’s not about incantations, and conjuring up luminous arcane energies. And equally, it gets quite flat if it becomes ‘I sing my invisibility song’. The following examples all happen to be second level spells, as the conversation started around which ones he should choose.

Argo fingers swipe across the strings of his lute, and as a low, powerful sound emanates, he cups his hands in front of his mouth, his voice completing the chord, then rising sharply in pitch and volume. As it hits its crescendo he thrusts his hands forward, and a deafening explosion detonates at the far side of the hall. (Shatter)

The bard furrows his brow in concentration, his mouth slightly open as a deep, steady note begins in his throat. He places his hand on the unconscious gnome’s shoulder, and wills the magic to reverberate down his arm and into his prone companion. The vibrations pulse through his stricken body, obliterating the darkness in his veins. The fever abruptly ceases, and the gnome’s eyes flicker open. (Lesser Restoration)

Argo steps forward, his eyes meeting those of the guard captain. Into the quiet night air he sings one, two then three strange, mellifluous words from a long forgotten language. As he does so, he plucks the lute, precisely, discordantly. The captain feels the disharmony in his very bones and tries to reach for his sword – but he is too late. His muscles are frozen. (Hold person)

Watching the faces of the crowd, Argo begins the ballad softly. Disinterest quickly becomes intrigue, and he feels the emotions of his audience shift. Focusing on the grey-garbed merchant in the corner, he lets himself go deeper. There is no intrigue here, no pleasure, just… anxiety. And those surface thoughts come like whispers: ‘Where is she? Why is she late? There’ll be hell to pay if she isn’t dealt with by midnight’ – he glances at his blade as these thoughts play through his mind. And with that, the assassin is revealed. (Detect Thoughts)

So, anyway, there’s this gnome…

And thus begun an attempt to keep a blog that chronicles a D&D campaign; weaving its path through the 5th Edition Starter Set, one or two main Forgotten Realms published adventures, a smattering of DM’s Guild material and a ton of my own writing (and the occasional map).

I’m Simon, the DM. The ‘heroes’ of our story are:

Felrick, a gnome wizard and apprentice to the powerful and eccentric illusionist, Magister Knotwhistle. He hails from the settlement of Hammersong in the southern foothills of Mount Hotenow, but he now finds himself turfed out of his mentor’s tower, to further his education in the field.

Lythrin is a warlock of elven origin. After making a cryptic and fiery pact with a Fiend of the Nine Hells, he’s on the road looking for answers and trouble – and finding mainly the latter, thanks to his reluctance to ever back down. Ever.

Goldmund, a rogue raised in a Neverwinter temple, is defined by unexpected contradictions. Devout in his beliefs; no faith in authority. Cares deeply about his fellow man; has a knack for murder.

Argo, the Waterdhavian bard has epic songs to sing and great tales to tell. The great heroes of his verse are, well, him and anybody else lucky enough to join his adventure. Fame, fortune and danger beckon, as do fine wines and the other pleasures of the senses.

These four find themselves far from their homes, near Phandalin in the Sword Mountains. It’s a frontier town, with more going on than you might expect. The dwarven prospector they set out to meet, Gundren Rockseeker, has been abducted by goblins, and a violent gang – the Redbrands – are in control of the town. Then there’s this bounty – a hill giant is menacing a nearby village. The money is good, so why not deal with this side-problem first? I mean, it’s one giant. How hard can it be?