tag

Rats of Tanglethorn Pt.13: Walking on Needles

After a forced march around the parade ground and a breakfast of fruit, veggies, and bread in the mess, Afheesh (played by your dear narrator) went to the bursar. He collected the previous day’s pay, 95 bronze thorns (it would have been 100 but for the 5% Mezcor tithe). He spent the rest of the morning atop the thorns above the gates spotting for incoming caravans.

Less than an hour into the shift on the battlements, the rest of the guards, Thorn-runner ratlings like him, were asleep. In frustration, Afheesh approached the ratling wearing the captain’s helm, also snoring in a dirty corner. The helmet was a bronze peaked open helm with a thorn design around the edges and a faded and ratty red-dyed horsetail, there was a groove just above the brow for a turban wrap, which was missing. Portions of the bronze were badly tarnished other spots were polished to mirror shine. The helmet did sport some signs of combat, blade gashes and multiple dents, all old and oxidized.

The snoring ratling once wakened turned over the helmet without argument. When Afheesh shouted out commands it only elicited grumbles and groans from the rest, so he spent the time marching up and down the guard walk occasionally glancing outside. All was business as usual.

When his shift was finally over, Afheesh went to return the captain’s helmet.

Formerly Snoring Ratling: “Just toss it in the corner. That’s where I found it. The sun was in my eyes there so…”

He stumbled off leaving Afheesh standing there looking perplexed. Eventually Afheesh threw the worn helm against a wall putting a new dent into the old bronze. He left in a huff.

Later, after first stopping by the White Rose Perfumery to purchase some sleep-poison, Afheesh met up with his cohorts at the inn for some dinner. Then they made their way to the Caskroom. There was a single remaining target to eliminate there, the bartender. It was not long before Wufcor (played by Isis) and Afheesh were engaged in a full-blown fight versus the bartender and the cook, the latter armed with a longsword. Meanwhile, Sikeek (played by Jenn) was off picking pockets of the onlooker mercenaries that populated the rear tables and benches.

After the ratlings already slaughtered the two bar-backs, the mercenaries jumped up and pursued Sikeek and Wufcor who were fleeing through the back door. Unseen, Afheesh broke off and ran out of the front door, then turned, shouted, and laughed at the mercs distracting them long enough for his other two coconspirators to flee.

The next day Afheesh got himself onto a patrol that protected the streets around “the good blocks” and took the opportunity to familiarize himself with the place. The day went slowly until a fight broke out in the Blue Lotus Well plaza among street toughs, the captain let them go after they paid a hefty “fine” which he cut the rest of the guards in on, Afheesh’s cut was 30 bronze thorns. Eventually, Afheesh was able to spot his goal, a young woman who presumably lived alone in one of the apartments. He had taken note of the building and got her apartment number by stalking her. He could feel his new troll-make weapons in his grubby little claws already.

After his shift was over, Afheesh went to the Last Rest Inn to his room to change his outfit. Afterwards, he walked to the Dancing Rat to try to find the other two. As he entered the rowdy establishment, he spotted a female ratling leaving with a familiar backpack cradled in her paws. As a result, he barred her way and did everything he could to try to snatch the pack back. However, she was highly agile and dodged nearly everything he could throw at her. Nevertheless, she had to drop the pack to recover from a successful trip when he hooked one of her legs with one of his weapons.

Afheesh snatched up his companion’s presumably stolen backpack. He introduced himself to the she-rat impressed with her skills. Her name was “Riknik” and she was not interested in working for anybody but herself. With that, she turned to run. Afheesh snatched one of five coin purses at random in the pack and tossed it to her before she ran away.

Afheesh: “Here! You earned this!”

Riknik (as she ran): “I owe you nothing!”

Afheesh shrugged.

Sure enough, when Afheesh entered the place he immediately spotted Wufcor asleep with his head on a table. Riknik, if that indeed was her name, had drugged him.

Later, Sikeek and Afheesh were dragging an unconscious Wufcor through the streets to Afheesh’s room at the Last Rest Inn. Suddenly, charging them from an alley buried in garbage came three giant centipedes.

Me (at GM Cris):  “Again!?”

GM Cris:  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

The battle was brief but Wufcor was almost dragged away to be eaten. Eventually they got their companion to the room. Morning came and they parted ways once again pledging to make the Dancing Rat their common meeting place.

On the way to guard duty, Afheesh passed by a sanctioned duel with a green robe behind each fighter. It was a disappointingly quick match. The two brothers of the Green Well exchanged two handfuls of gold.

Afheesh (laughing derisively): “With that much money changing hands you’d think you’d get better fighters! Aha-ha-ah! I could’a taken ‘em both on! Aha-ha-ha-ha!”

All the ratling got in passing were several dirty looks. Afheesh served out his guard duty at the West Gate and in the course of the afternoon accepted a bribe from some Troll Boy gang members earning a 75 bronze thorn “bonus”. Later, he went to the Dancing Rat finding his companions there. Sikeek was drunk after losing a drinking contest sitting alongside another scrawny ratling named Needles (played by Natalie). Wufcor was sitting next to them quietly drinking keeping his drinking jack close.

Afheesh (to Needles): “So, you have any skills?”

Needles: “Aw yeah, I got all the skills! What you need, I got it! I’m good with weapons and I could balance on a leaf!”

Needles back-flipped easily onto the tabletop and Afheesh easily tripped him by hooking his ankle. Having fallen face-first, Needles suffered a bloody nose. In disgust, especially as Needles started to cry, Afheesh turned his back on the scrawny ratling and addressed the other two.

Afheesh: “We have a mission let’s go!”

Sikeek grumbled as she rose from her seat.

Sikeek (motioning to the bawling Needles): “Come along, you’re good for a laugh.”

Afheesh (mumbling angrily): “And for fodder.”

On the way to their goal, five giant cockroaches swarmed from the Blue Well itself. The fight did not last long but Needles proved himself very inefficient in combat. He was unarmed and punching the giant bugs doing nothing but annoying his enemies and allies until Wufcor tossed him a dirk. Needles killed the last with a single blow. However, as he almost died from a single bite he ran off to the nearest White Star guild. The others continued on their way to the target apartment.

After sneaking past guards and picking the lock on the door, the ratlings prepared to burgle the place. However, after carefully opening the door so that there would be no sound a human fighter in a bronze chest-plate, a full bronze helm, and short sword confronted them.

Us (the players): “What!? Really!?”

GM Cris: “Hey, he natural 20’d the listen when you guys approached the door.”

To Be Continued…

Rats of Tanglethorn Pt.12: Petty Vengeance

The pair of guards walked in, one with a bottle of wine, the other placing the key in his satchel. He lit an oil Murder D20lamp and then set to lighting the fireplace. Afheesh (played by yours truly) from just up inside of the flue, could hear the second guard pop and pour the wine. He was shaking with anticipation. His vengeance was soon at hand. Two thuds on the floor indicated that their helmets were off.

The first grabbed some logs from the woodpile next to the fireplace. Just as the first guard knelt down to place the first log into the hearth, Afheesh picked a chunk of cinder from the inside of the chimney and flung it down. Of course, the first guard poked his head in to check it out.

Suddenly, Afheesh dropped down and stabbed him in the neck. Wufcor (played by Isis) leapt from his hiding place under a table stabbing the reeling guard in the back. Sikeek (played by Jenn) sprung from her dark corner and stabbed the wine guard who then snatched a fighting spear from the wall. Afheesh redoubled his efforts against the first guard nailing him again but the guard’s chainmail absorbed most of the damage. Sikeek moved in on the other guard and slashed him.

Wufcor struck at the first guard wounding him badly. He in turn pulled the spiked mace from his belt and desperately swung the weapon at Wufcor accidently smashing a small table. The second guard struck at Sikeek with his spear barely missing. Afheesh ran the first guard through with both of his weapons killing him instantly. He and Wufcor then turned their attentions towards the spear-bearer.

Sikeek struck out and got a good hit in on the spear-bearer. Wufcor ran in and jabbed him in the back causing the blood to run. He thrust at Sikeek catching her in the belly. The small ratling stumbled backward from the fight (requiring a recovery check to keep from dropping). Afheesh leapt in missing with one weapon and hitting with the other but again the guard’s armor lessened the blow significantly. Wufcor tried to get in the last stab but tripped over his own feet. The spear-bearer lunged at Sikeek once again but missed then swung the butt of his weapon around and smashed her in the skull. Sikeek stumbled back once again nearly passing out.

Afheesh lashed out with both of weapons but the haft of the guard’s spear easily parried both blows away. Wufcor moved in and stabbed him again. He thrust then swung with the butt of his spear but missed both times. Afheesh landed the killing blow through the guard’s clumsy defense (a Natural 1 parry).

The blood was still pooling as the trio of ratlings looted the place and cracked the lock off a chest. They absconded with 5 gold talons, 6,000 bronze thorns, a low-quality bullwhip with a butt-spike, a silver ear-cuff, and a high quality dirk.

Thinking that no one was looking, Sikeek found a secret compartment at the bottom of the chest discovering a gold and ruby ring, and a sack of 6,000 bronze thorns and 4 gold talons.

Afheesh (to Sikeek): “Good, we each get more shares!”

Sikeek: “But I found this…”

Afheesh: “And we both saw you. So now, it’s group shares. Besides you’re a hired dagger or would you rather be dead?”

Sikeek (turning over the loot to Wufcor): “Aww man.”

Meanwhile, Wufcor tried to get away with the 900 bronze thorns he found on the corpses to Afheesh’s chagrin.

Wufcor: “Don’t kill me boss! See, I’m putting it in the group PILE!”

Afheesh gritted his teeth and the trio began to file out into the street after vacating the apartment building. However, just as they broke out onto the street they ducked swiftly back into the cover of a shadowed corner. A gang of roaches with a Mantck leader was out front obviously looking for trouble. There were too many to deal with at this point. The ratlings easily snuck past the gangsters and proceeded to travel to their other mark’s home in another apartment building to the south.

Soon enough, the trio clustered around a sturdy locked wooden door in a narrow plastered ill-lit hallway. There were only a couple of clay chamber pots set outside the doors aside for the sparse lamp lit niches in the walls. The smell was not pleasant.

Afheesh (to Sikeek): “Okay thief, get to crackin’ that lock.”

Sikeek: “Hey, c’mon guys, we already have money. Let’s just get outta here.”

Afheesh: “No…hey weren’t you badly wounded a little while ago?”

Jenn: “Yeah, healing potions. That guy almost killed me in a single hit TWICE back there!”

Sikeek: “So, I really don’t wanna go in there guys. C’mon, we already got some cash…I need to roll some BONES!”

Wufcor (flashing a piece of quartz to Sikeek): “Betcha can’t open that lock.”

The Canny-Jack (Wufcor) put his ear to the door as Sikeek went to work on the lock.

Again, Wufcor (in a hushed tone): “Hmm…I think I can hear him. Sounds like he’s messing with …metal stuff?”

Sikeek kept trying the lock but its artisanship kept evading her skill. After three tries at it, finally the click of success tweaked their twitching ears.

Wufcor: “Hmmm..I don’t hear anything anymore. … Um. What’re we gonna do?”

Afheesh had his back against the wall opposite the door ready to pounce. He was huffing in the foul air of the hallway with every deep breath. His needed to quell his thirst for vengeance.

Afheesh (through clenched teeth, yeah he knew this was a bad idea): “Let’s do this.”

Sikeek slowly opened the door while trying to stay under cover. The door came to a creaking stop and revealed the guardsmen, their target, in full chainmail wielding a bronze shield and a great sword replete with bronze great helm.

Guardsman: “You Ratling thieves have come to die eh!?”

What ensued was a deadly dance of whirling weapons, lightning reflexes, and sheer luck. Eventually, Wufcor buried his blade in the guardsman’s kidney nearly killing him then Afheesh followed up with a paired weapon strike ultimately downing their prey. Their enemy had not landed a single blow in two full rounds of combat. Afheesh felt some satisfaction standing over the body of the last guard against whom he had pledged vengeance. Vengeance indeed tasted sweet. However, he was now also eager to hurt the Roaches in any way possible.

As before, the ratlings ransacked the place, again finding a chest, and again breaking the lock and absconding with a fat sack of coin. Inside they had found a bag of 4,000 bronze thorns, a bone pipe with a bowl carved into an eagle’s head, a pouch of high quality smoking herbs, and 5 gold talons. They also looted 400 bronze thorns from the corpse. The three eventually landed in a room, rented by Afheesh, at the Last Rest Inn where they split the take. Afheesh netted 4,566 bronze thorns, 4 gold talons, and took the silver ear cuff. “Not a bad start”, he thought.

After the dividing of the spoils, Afheesh and Wufcor decided to cut Sikeek in on a standard share instead of paying her thereby welcoming her into the crew. Shortly thereafter Wufcor and Sikeek left. The latter mentioning something about getting “one more game in” before dawn. Afheesh settled in for some well-deserved rest. Thoughts of making the Roaches suffer never far from his mind.

To Be Continued…

Rats of Tanglethorn Pt.11: Dagger for Hire

A few days later, the pair of ratling villains, Afheesh (played by yours truly) and Wufcor (played by Isis), walked through the crowded streets at evening. The pair neared the plaza of the Blue Well and the Dancing Rat Tavern. They were going to drown their sense of loss in a sea of cheap booze. Even possibly work off some frustration in low stakes fights there and then maybe start recruiting for their own gang. The roguish pair stepped up to the saloon doors.

Overgrowth partially buried the tavern building underneath the snaking thorny vines of the Thorn-Ring. The hedge of thorns that serves as  Tangelthorn’s city defenses along gatehouses and partial fortifications at all four compass directions. The thorns spilled over the top of the three-story building canopy-like and wrapped tightly around the eastern half, the thorny vines at grips with the alien waxy-orange masonry. The ratling companions strutted into the yellow lit, smoke flooded tavern.

The thorn-creepers had extended into the bar itself cramping what could have been a spacious establishment. The woody vines shaped into a second tier in the western half of the combo taproom/common-room was crowded both atop and underneath with ratlings most bearing the light golden brown hair of thorn-runners. Tending the bar itself were ratlings and a human bar-back. On the far end, a half-troll sat on the floor wedged into his cramped station overseeing the all-sorts barrel. It was 1 copper bit (copper piece of eight) to dip your jack, no fliks accepted.

Layer after layer of compacted filth interspersed with sawdust and straw covered the floor. A fresh layer of straw and sawdust added a welcome fresh vegetable musk to the somewhat fowl and smoke-thickened air. Large scorched areas attested to the fact that the place was a fire hazard. As a result, there were water buckets on both sides of the entrance and the side door as well as behind the bar.

However, the ratling patrons used the water-filled buckets to relieve themselves thus adding a certain unmistakable bouquet to the place. It also made the extinguishing of the frequent fires a most disgusting affair. Even so, patrons still lit matches from the straw on the ground using the enclosed candle lanterns (no open flames allowed) often absentmindedly tossing them back to the floor.

The pair of beleaguered ratlings shuffled in among the rowdy crowd. Most of the tables were occupied, both of small and average size, with raucous rogues slinging down copious amounts of cheap grog and sour wine. Crowding the rear of the place, patrons at the gambling tables eagerly lost their shirts, some literally, to the house dice.

Afheesh and Wufcor settled into a couple stools at the ratling end of the bar the occupants wisely vacating their seats after being told to “scram”. Afheesh bought a pitcher of low quality ale fortified with some sort of cheap grain alcohol. As they commenced getting “sloshed”, a scrawny ratling sidled up to the disheartened pair.

This ratling was brown with white-grey spots on her face. She had on a wool jerkin, leather gauntlets, and had a horn-handled bowie knife at her side. She seemed a viable candidate for their gang.

The Ratling (very excitedly): “Hey Guys! I’m Sikeek! You wanna go throw some bones in the corner?”

The pair shrugged and joined Sikeek (played by Jenn) in a corner and started throwing dice. After a few small wins, Afheesh tossed a piece of quartz onto the table.

Afheesh (to Sikeek): “If you can’t pay the losses after this round against me, you’ll work off your debt in my service!”

Sikeek agreed to the terms and easily took Afheesh for his money. Apparently, Sikeek was a very skilled gambler. After that, the conversation turned to her weapon skill. She assured them that her skills at the gaming tables matched those of her roguery. As a result,  Wufcor and Afheesh took her on as a hired dagger to their cause.

Later, all three were well pickled and Sikeek’s appetite for gambling whetted. Wufcor and the new employee headed to a squat in the north. Afheesh went back to the guard barracks to catch some rest.

Early the next evening, Afheesh found himself hiding on a roofline. Wufcor hid in an adjacent alley and Sikeek was “acting casual” while leaning against a nearby corner. They were staking out the Cask Room to observe the three guards against which Afheesh had a vendetta (see last episode – Rats of Tanglethorn Pt.10: All These Roaches). They watched as two of the three guards approached the place from the west and a little while later the third from the north. The doors to the Cask Room seemed to have been opened from the inside to allow them egress.

The ratlings watched carefully and took mental notes. They also followed the guards when they left late at night. They repeated this the next day.

That night, the ratling trio had just broken up and Afheesh was loitering around the streets hoping to run into members of the Roaches street gang. He was hungry for trouble. Instead, he ran directly into a troll. The same troll that he had encountered almost two weeks prior. The little ratling recognized that massive iron maul, “Skull-Biter”, which was slung over the monster’s hill of a shoulder.

This time instead of panicking, Afheesh decided to try to strike a deal with this troll. The troll ability to forge extraordinary weaponry well-known and renowned in Tanglethorn. It was not long before Afheesh had struck a deal with Snotnack the troll. If the ratling were to bring the troll a beautiful human woman, he would and give the ratling a reward. He would forge a pair of weapons just like those that he now bore but “better”. For his new hook-guard daggers in three days, the ratling had to bring the young woman to the orange well. He would also have to call the troll’s name into the well. Of course, Snotnack bullied Afheesh into accompanying him all night long anyway.

By morning, Afheesh was exhausted and later in the evening was late for the third day of tracking the guards. This time, the trio was able to track two of the guards to a single apartment. The next night, the ratlings went to the apartment just before the time the guards would be getting off work. Sikeek picked the lock although it took a few tries. She popped the lock just before the pair of guards came up the stairs. The ratlings carefully shut the door and turned the lock, jaunted quickly to hiding places around the well-furnished room, and waited for their prey. Their ears perked as the lock turned and the door opened.

To Be Continued…

Rats of Tanglethorn Pt.10: All These Roaches

Three gang members ran in through the shattered front door of the abandoned warehouse armed with loaded Afheesh's anti gang weaponscrossbows. They spotted out Pabst (played by Jenn) and one took a shot. She knocked the bolt aside with her buckler (more of a targe but virtually the same in game terms). Afheesh (played by yours truly) pulled his paired weapons, matching variants on the sai, and lashed out at the Mantck who was blocking his egress through the rear door. The first blade stung the intruder but the second easily parried by a cutlass.  Afheesh turned to see Wufcor (played by Isis) leap from his hiding place and engage with five more Roaches who had surrounded Pabst. Pabst lashed out with her scimitar missing horribly. Afheesh turned his full attention back to the Mantck.

The Mantck slashed with his paired cutlasses, missing badly with one and the other parried easily by the ratling Quickling. Afheesh retorted striking deep with a single strike, the other deflected harmlessly away. Two thugs behind the Mantck pushed their way through the doorway as Afheesh took this opportunity to strike at both once each with his weapons. One of his narrow blades struck home, the other clinched by a short sword. The battle between the other two street mercs and the hordes of Roaches raged behind Afheesh where he could not see the fate of his two companions only hear the clash of steel.

It was at this moment that the Mantck took this opportunity to hack at the ratling while his human accomplice kept the clinch on the Quickling’s right arm and weapon. Afheesh was barely able to swat aside the Mantck’s double cutlass strike with a single weapon. He tried to break the clinch but failed. The Mantck took another paired weapon strike but again parried by Afheesh’s left-handed weapon.

In a desperate gambit, Afheesh reversed the clinch hooking the thug’s wrist with his weapon. With his second weapon, Afheesh stabbed the Mantck further wounding him. The Mantck responded hacking into the ratling’s side after a failed parry attempt (Natural 1). Both blades glanced of Afheesh’s tiny ribs. Horribly wounded he started to bleed out. The human thug broke loose of Afheesh’s hook. Breathing hard, the little ratling glanced around on the edge of panic looking for an escape, any escape. He spied through a window, the boards having been knocked out by the surge of Roaches, a naga with a large scythe on her back amongst the horde of gang members.

In a last ditch move Afheesh tucked and dove between the legs of those gangsters blocking the door. However, Roaches overflowed the alley, their daggers and swords bared and thirsty. In response, Afheesh leapt to the wall and used his supreme parkour skills to scale the bricks up to the roof all the while narrowly avoiding flurries of enemy blades. He found dozens upon dozens of thugs already atop the roof!

Cris (the GM): “They’re all heavily muscled and full of gang tats too.”

Me (to GM Cris): “So they have street gangster levels?”

GM Cris: “Yup. They look very experienced.”

Me: >:(

He made a quick survey of the roofline intending to jump to another roof. All of the surrounding roofs were populated with Roaches bearing loaded crossbows. Afheesh barley dodged several poisoned crossbow bolts that flew at him imbedding themselves in the bricks.

Me: “POISONED!?”

GM Cris: “Well yeah! They’re not taking any chances!”

Afheesh jumped onto the roof and ran around gaining momentum avoiding the clumsy strikes of the gangsters and leapt onto a neighboring roof tucking and tumbling as he landed followed by the thud, thud, thud of misguided poisoned bolts. He kept running as he bled finally escaping the few human-led ratlings that tried to pursue him over the building tops. Eventually he stumbled over the threshold of the local White Star guild where he collapsed.

An hour or so later Afheesh came to. The White Star had treated his wounds and taken their pay from the coin on his person, and no more. The ratling thanked them and left before they could go into their “would you like to come and pray with us” shtick. Although exhausted at this point, he had to find his friends.

At the Caskroom Tavern, Afheesh found Wufcor the ratling Canny-Jack. Pabst had been killed in the raid and he himself had barely escaped through a window. They sat in silence for a while and then began pounding jacks of ale. Afheesh pledged vengeance against the Roaches and Wufcor concurred with a hearty gulp from his frothing cup. The Canny-Jack mentioned that he did have a lead, there had been a naga bard with the Roaches maybe she could help them get their revenge. Afheesh grabbed the other ratling by the collar to make him lead him to the bard. However, Wufcor just lifted a finger and pointed. She was currently singing some poetry drifting from table to table for tips.

Barely a second later a beggar came to the ratling’s table apparently to beg. As a result, the bard passed their table up. Enraged Afheesh stabbed the man in his neck who then stumbled away and out the door bleeding. After her number was finished, Wufcor waved the bard over. As soon as she sat next to them Afheesh threatened her and got the name Skilneel from her for the Mantck that had fought him during the warehouse raid.

The Bard (played by Natalie): “I’m just gonna go, um.” She got up and slithered over to the bar.

The bard tried to rent a room from the bartender. He told her that there were no vacancies. Afheesh strode up next to her and asked the bartender how much a plate of food ran. The bartender set down a half full tankard in front of him and tossed him a plate of half-eaten food from the other side of the bar in response. So Afheesh smashed him in the face with the tankard and told the bard that she was coming with him and his friend. Wufcor sidled up to her on the opposite side smiling.

The Bard: “Uhm, I’m just gonna leave?”

Afheesh (with one of his paired weapons pointing at her): “If you try to run I’ll kill you.”

Wufcor: “He will, he’ll kill you so don’t run.”

The bartender groggy from the rattling that the Quickling gave him snapped his fingers and three guards ran from a back room. Armed with pikes they wore scale-mail.

Afheesh: “Wufcor. Pull yer weapon!”

The scuffle with the guards was brief. They attacked all three equally, the ratlings and the bard. The latter of who fled through the saloon doors into the street. Wufcor followed, after stabbing at one of the guards a few times.

Guard Captain (to Afheesh): “Ratling! Just leave! Get outta HERE!”

Then the guard captain got in a lucky hit that nearly skewered Afheesh. The ratling tumbled out of the saloon doors and into the street. The other pikes hit the floorboards fortunately missing the little hoodlum by a mile. As Afheesh galloped away from the tavern, he caught sight of the naga bard and Wufcor side by side just ahead. He increased his speed to a full run.

Afheesh flew into the air in mid leap attack and came down on the naga’s back practically nailing her thrashing half-serpent body to the street with both of his weapons. He twisted them as she died then ripped them free, wiped them clean with her hair, and scabbarded them. He stomped off to the White Star guild house once again.

With a tear in his eye, Wufcor looted the bard’s corpse. He then cut a swatch of her scaly skin from her shoulder. Then he sweetly caressed the still warm swatch to his hairy cheek before jaunting off to catch up to his leader.

To Be Continued…

Bizarre Beasties #12 – Ullarhg

The Ullarhg are a fierce herd beast that tramples enemies with their hooves. As well as goring them with their tusks and horns, and resist attack with their spikes and thick hides. A new pregenerated monster for Dice & Glory that will add some danger and awe to any GM’s campaign. These tough and monstrously strong brutes are a challenge to any adventurer.

These appear as terrifying bull-boar-rhino hybrids. They are ponderous in weight and large in size. Ullarhg use their boar-like tusks, bovine horns, and rhino-nose-horns to great effect in battle. Their thick rhino-like hide and spikes grant them protection from most weapon-strikes.

Bizarre Beasties can be used at the discretion of Game-Masters to add variety to their game worlds easily and quickly. So that GM’s can drop the fully fleshed Ullarhg into game sessions immediately without any prep-work beyond reading the document. Finally, the Wolf-Bat is a great addition to any GM’s bestiary.

Bizarre Beasties #12 – 625k

Powerful Bull-Boar-Rhino herd beasts with an array of horns and tusks!

Rats of Tanglethorn Pt.9: Merchant Boxing

It was early morning, already the sun was beating down upon the dead yellow dirt, and Afheesh the ratling merchant chestQuickling was beginning to feel trapped. After a forced march around the parade ground and a breakfast of fruit, veggies, and bread in the mess, Afheesh (played by yours truly) went to the bursar. He collected the previous day’s pay, 95 bronze thorns (pay was 100 but there was the 5% Mezcor tithe). Subsequently, he spent the rest of the morning atop the thorns above the gates spotting for incoming caravans.

Only ratlings were assigned the battlements over the gates as the Thorn Crown had grown over the ramparts ages ago leaving only small tunnels through the winding thorny vines. Moreover, the thorns acted as an additional cover for those manning the hidden crenulations of the gate. Therefore, it allowed the guards, armed with darts and some with crossbows, to fire with impunity on any enemies without the gates. It was also horribly cramped, suffocating, and filthy not unlike the hovels of Thorn-runner ratlings that subsisted within the confines of the thorns surrounding the city.

There was bird mess everywhere, not only the white and black-purple of their droppings streaking the woody vines but clumps of flea-infested feathers, filthy nest litter, and the cacophony of chittering from above where the small birds would alight atop the thorny canopy. The most common birds there being pigeons and shirkes the latter of which were known to impale the uneaten portions of their prey, other smaller birds and rodents, on the thorns. It was getting near noon nearing the end of his shift when he spotted something of interest.

A Hill-Lander caravan pulled up to the south gates with three hill giants in escort. There were four covered wagons, two vardoes, and iron strongboxes chained atop each vardo. The giants and the faun and half-faun drivers were all well-equipped. Consequently, Afheesh was intrigued. As the caravan was allowed entry the ratling excused himself, the rest of the ratling guards were asleep anyway. He trailed the caravan as it made its way north towards the city center and Mezcor’s tower.

Mezcor’s black keep sits at the very center of the city like a single coffin nail holding all the requisite parts of the rotting box together through shear gravity. Every night the single round window at the top of the tower glows with candlelight that burns from behind the purple glass. A high black stone iron spike-topped wall bound it with a single bronze double gate in its southern face. The gates opened of their own accord at dusk revealing the white flagstones at the threshold the engraved message warning “step not beyond the white stones trespasser”. It was here that traveling merchants could expect to toss their tribute lest they incur Mezcor’s curse.

The Hill-landers were evidently confused that the gates were closed. For a brief second Afheesh had considered fleecing them in the name of Mezocr as he strode up to the caravan leader in his guard uniform. However, he was no fool and Mezcor’s curse had proven itself true at an alarmingly constant rate. He kicked one of the giant’s in the toe to gain their attention.

Afheesh (to the lead driver): “What’s this now? Looks like you guys need a surprise inspection!”

The Lead Driver (exasperated): “Hey! We already paid our way in an’a’ gave a little sometin’ o’ tha guards!”

Afheesh (lying in a surprisingly convincing way): “That was for the South Gate guards what about those that secure this road for you?”

The First Giant (his ultra-baritone voice vibrating the ratling’s bones): “Didn’t I jes see ya come from ta gate back dare?”

Afheesh (apparently, he’s a good liar): “No.”

The Lead Driver (with a frustrated sigh): “Okay, here’s some coin…”

Afheesh (cutting him off): “No, give me a bottle of that famous Hill-Lander booze!”

With a sneer, the driver tossed the ratling a bottle of whiskey; it had been previously opened but was still mostly full. Consequently, the little extortionist tucked his prize in his belt and kept a tiny-clawed hand on it at all times.

Afheesh: “Now you lot make sure you pay the proper tithe to Mezcor at dusk!”

The hill-landers all shook their heads in both agreement and realization. Meanwhile, the ratling snatched a good look at their strongboxes and figured the locks though high quality looked easy enough for a crowbar to break or Wufcor to pick. He took his leave and high-tailed it to look for his crew. He intercepted them on their way to one of many taverns. Soon they were back at the warehouse conspiring together.

About an hour later, the ruthless trio found their way to the local market where the Hill-lander caravan had set up shop. Pabst (played by Jenn) strutted over to the merchant. She was going to try to work her charms on the goat-man.

Jenn (to me the plan-maker): “I don’t know why I’m supposed to charm the guy. I can just intimidate them…”

Me: “No! We need a distraction!”

Isis (Wufcor’s player): “Yeah sis! We’re trying to avoid a fight!”

Jenn: “My intimidate is better than my charm.”

Isis: “Nooo.”

She swished over to the head merchant who was eyeballing her suspiciously. Subsequently, Afheesh and Wufcor remained hidden in the shadows of the alley across the way from the shop stalls. Pabst began to work her magic.

The Hill-Lander Merchant: “Get away you ugly wh*#@! We’ll deal with your kind when we get ta da livery tonight! Maybe one a’ these giants would want you! Haw, haw, haw!”

So she decked him.

Isis face-palmed.

Meanwhile Afheesh stripped off his guard uniform and hid it in a trash-barrel. The Hill-Lander merchant cocked his fist back aiming the blow right at Pabst’s face.

The Merchant (just before smashing his fist into Pabst’s nose): “Aw an’ here I thought ya Poisonwood folk were tough!”

Wufcor darted to the stands followed by Afheesh. Her nose bleeding Pabst threw another punch at the merchant opening a cut along his cheekbone. The merchant circled from around his table and popped her good in the jaw. They were now facing off like a pair of street boxers. The crowd including guards gathered round to watch.

Afheesh began to walk nonchalantly towards the tent-back of the hill-lander stall where he believed the strongboxes were located playing it off as if he were watching the brawl. Pabst started talking smack to the merchant then she nearly tripped over her own feet when she went to throw a punch. The merchant tried to take advantage throwing a body blow her way but she knocked his hairy-knuckled fist to the side.

Meanwhile, a large group of gang members, the Roaches, flooded into the area attracted by the chaos and inched their way to towards the stall. Afheesh unawares cut a slash in the tent fabric and rolled into the stall. Outside the stall, the merchant threw a wild punch missing Pabst by a wide margin. Pabst swung and the merchant caught her arm in a clinch. Both fighters were in bad shape, panting, bleeding, and barley standing. The crowd roared for blood. Afheesh looked at the two strongboxes noticing the largest had runic markings over its outer shell. Wufcor rolled in and shimmied to the Quickling’s side.

The merchant caught Pabst in a grapple getting her in a tight headlock. She struggled as hard as she could but his iron grip held her skull fast. That was when Afheesh noticed that the two Roaches standing at the counter had spotted him and Wufcor. They were human, probably street rats and/or thugs maybe thieves. After a few moments of an improvised hand-signal-thieves’-cant back and forth between the ratlings and the Roaches a deal for their silence was worked out. Wufcor then picked the lock easily (Natural 20 picklock check) but immediately struck by an electrical bolt emanating from the runes on the chest. Fortunately, by chance, the crowd had roared at the exact same time concealing any noise.

The crowd groaned as the merchant locked in a chokehold on Pabst’s neck and she went limp her nose exploding as the vessels succumbed to the pressure.

Wufcor (after spotting the result of the brawl): “Oh boy! Time to go!”

Wufcor snatched two full bags from the chest and darted away. Afheesh threw a couple of signals at the pair of Roaches meaning to have them pick up and carry Pabst to the nearest alleyway. He then snatched up the last two full sacks, ran from the back of the canopy, and made his way around as stealthily as possible heading right for the nearest alley.

The ratling’s heart shot up into his eyes when he heard, “Stop THIEF!” He glanced over his sack-laden shoulder and saw that the bleeding and shaken Merchant had spotted him, by pure chance, as he was being taken back to the tent on a pair of his guards’ shoulders. Immediately the three hill-giants roared in unison and the ground began to thunder with their charge.

It took some minutes for the ratling to evade his gigantic and very fast pursuers. However, taking sudden sharp turns and ducking under obstructions that for the most part, the giants had to burst through did the trick. After he was sure that he had lost all three of his pursuers, he circled back around careful to stay in the narrowest of alleys until he was sure he had arrived where he had said he would meet the pair of street rats. He heard a faint whistle and saw the pair of Roaches with Pabst’s unconscious body leaned against a filthy brick wall.

The ratling swiftly checked the sacks; one filled with silver pieces and the other with bits of tanzanite. He tossed them the tanzanite sack and took charge of his friend. The Roaches with which the ratling had canted with gave his name as Neezik. He wasted no time in beating it to the warehouse careful should someone be following. When he met back up with Wufcor he found that the Canny-Jack had a sack of gold pieces and one of quartz.

The split, with Pabst included (she was still out), was 66 gold pieces, 20 quartz, and 166 silver pieces.

Jenn: “Yeah you guys better cut me in!”

The sun was down and the crew put their money away. It was time to decide what to do and where to go for the night.

Suddenly the boards blocking the front entrance smashed down with a crash and blast of dust. Standing in the door are Neezik and an uncountable number of the Roaches street gang. Afheesh dashed to the rear door just in time for those boards to come crashing down. A Mantck ratling wielding paired cutlasses stood in his way. The Quickling could hear dozens of feet outside around the building and dozens more climbing the outside walls and even feet clattering over the top of the roof. Pabst had just come to and both she and Wufcor tried to hide.

Jenn: “Damn! I’m still at K-O POINTS!”

Isis: “Yeah, I’m really bad right NOW! That bolt almost killed ME!”

To Be Continued…

Rats of Tanglethorn Pt.7: The Tree of Woe

Afheesh shot after Wufcor who was free of his shackles, fleeing, and armed with a stolen dagger. The Tree of Punishmentquickling guard tripped the fleeing canny-jack with his tail. Wufcor flopped onto his back hard with a blast of dust and dry leaves. Afheesh held the tip of his dagger to his former companion’s throat.

Afheesh (kicking dirt on the prone ratling): “Drop the dagger gutter trash!”

As a result, Wufcor let loose his white knuckled grip on the dagger letting it drop to the ground.

Wufcor: “I surrender!”

Pabst tried to move in and grapple the traitorous ratling but missed by a mile.

Jennifer (to me): “You traitor! I won’t forget this!”

Isis (shrugging): “Look Sis I figure he could’ve killed me at any time, so I hope he has a plan.”

Pabst reluctantly surrendered under the remaining guard’s spear points and Sergeant Neek’s sword. The prisoners were shackled once again and after another hour were finally led to the Tree of Judgment.

A large twisted trunk was before them that sported large thorns here and there over its pale striated bark. Deep scars crisscrossed the bole where prisoners had been lashed to it and left to die in the Poisonwood. The lower limbs, as thick and twisted as the rest, also exhibited deep hanging scars most still with some rusted bit of chain or rotted rope still dangling wafting or tinkling in the slight breeze. There were a few skulls and fragments of bone scattered among the surfaced roots and woody knees. Due to their diminished numbers, the guards were in a rush and so lashed the pair of prisoners to the bole before hastily retreating aboard the wagon.

The pair watched Afheesh ride away as the sergeant congratulated him, his attitude towards the ratling totally changed. The officer was counting himself fortunate that the guard had discovered such a skilled new recruit. The criminal pair was mumbling curses under their breaths. All too soon, the wagon was out of view and then the rolling crunch of its wheels faded into the general ambience of the dreaded Poisonwood.

There they were, Wufcor the ratling canny-jack and Pabst the female human duelist all alone and lashed to the bole of the execution tree. Intermittently tiny vermin of all kinds swarmed and crawled over their bare skin, fleas, wood lice, beetles, the occasional spider or centipede. Never had the pair felt more vulnerable, every crunch or slight movement of serrated leaf or thorny twig caused them to cringe. They nearly panicked when a large shadow swooped far above the autumnal umbrage momentarily blotting out the scant rays of sun that penetrated the reeking tree cover.

The poisonous musk of noxious weeds and nettles stung their nostrils and the rough, dry bark chafed and scratched at their skin. The thorns drew some blood. Adrenaline sharpened their ears and to them it seemed that the whole wood had come alive. It had come alive with things that were crawling and slithering through the dense underbrush. They writhed with discomfort.

Meanwhile, Afheesh was sitting with Sergeant Neek in a random saloon who was slinging back drink after drink. The ratling had tried to make use of the officer’s improved attitude towards him by getting assigned to the moneychanger at the front gate. However, that had gone nowhere. It was very near sundown when a still sober Afheesh took his leave and rushed to rent a wagon.

In the now dark Poisonwood, a very upset Pabst kicked a large black scorpion from her foot. Wufcor finally worked himself free of the ropes and soon freed his companion as well. The duelist secured an old branch that she could as a club. All the while, they swore to each other that they could see large black shadows skulking in the darkness behind a tangle of thorn trees and a dense thicket. Indeed, something was approaching them. They prepared to defend themselves determined to throw stones, bite, claw, and kick, whatever it took to survive.

On the trail to the Tree of Judgment to which his partners had been tied, Afheesh whipped the horses to speed. He was racing the setting sun as the golden disk sank into a blood-sky behind the black horizon. Already the purple moon with its golden ring was strong, dominating the eastern horizon. Although he could barely see it through the still dense but sickly foliage of the autumnal Poisonwood. He kept madly snapping the reins hoping to keep going just a little faster than before.

The wheels smashed into a small ridge of stone jutting from the rough path, the wagon jumped suddenly up onto the air for a split second. When it smashed back down onto the road, the ratling found himself airborne as the pungent winds of the wood roared into his face. Soon enough he flopped hard back onto the hard wooden driver’s seat with a guttural “oof”. It seemed an eternity until he had reached his goal. The wagon stopped in an explosion of dust, pebbles, and dry leaves.

Wufcor was guarding a paralyzed Pabst. Several giant spiders had attacked them not long before Afheesh’s arrival. Fortunately, they had been able to fight the monsters off killing virtually all of them. Unfortunately, Pabst had been bitten.

Afheesh (from the driver’s seat of the hay wagon): “Good you’re free! Get in HURRY! They close the gates at first gloaming!”

Seconds later the wagon was speeding back the way it came hitting the same bump again and nearly throwing Pabst were it not for Wufcor who was just able to grab onto her before she flew free of the wagon. For a short stretch just before the great thorn ring became visible, they could all hear something quite large chasing after the wagon. Whatever it was, it had halted as soon as the thorn-wall of the city came into view. The outer gates were just starting to be closed. Without stopping Afheesh raced the wagon in through as he kept shouting, “Don’t shoot, Guard! Guard! I’m a GUARD!”

Sometime later, the pair of ratlings, Afheesh and Wufcor, were dragging the limp, unconscious body of Pabst. They were nearing a deserted warehouse where they had planned to pass the night and wait for the effects of the spider venom to wear off of the duelist. Suddenly from around a corner they heard, “Well, well, well. What do we have here eh boys?”

A group of Bronzeboy gang members stepped out of an alley from around the corner confronting the ratlings. There were three well-armed humans, a single Mantck ratling (a medium sized ratling), and a Darkthorn Arborean (a purplish-gray tree-man covered in thorns).

Exhaling a mighty sigh pregnant with frustration, Afheesh dropped the paralytic duelist and pulled his paired weapons as he walked towards the gangsters. Wufcor followed pulling the dagger Afheesh had given him earlier “just in case”.

To Be Continued…

Rats of Tanglethorn Pt.6: Oh My Captain!

Come sun up, Afheesh (played by me) was feeling good still from the strange green glowing liquor from Tanglethorn - City of mothslast night. For that reason he strutted down the wide street on his way to meet his two compatriots in front of the Yellow Lotus Inn where Pabst (played by Jenn) had room. He rounded the southwest corner of Mezcor’s black-stone keep when he spotted a full regiment of guards hauling away a pair of prisoners down the wide boulevard eastward.

Afheesh was in the middle of smirking to himself, “amateu…” until he realized the two prisoners were Pabst and Wufcor (played by Isis). An experienced city captain was leading the group of 16 guards, his lieutenant was to his right holding up and inspecting a glittering medallion. Afheesh recognized the polished gold medallion as that previously worn by Phenox, an acolyte of the Brotherhood of the Green Well, who they collectively murdered and decapitated for a bounty.

The ratling quickling was just about to turn around and consider recruiting new companions. However, at the last minute turned on his heel and began stealthily to follow. His aim was the captain; he easily prowled into the crowd even under the noses of his companions and crept up behind his target. Suddenly, the captain glanced to his side and asked, “hey little ratling what business is this of yours?”

Afheesh (sputtering in surprise for a second): “Um, What’s going on here? With them.”

The Captain (with increasing levels of braggadocio): “Well, looks as if we caught ourselves a couple a’ killers. They murdered a popular apprentice of the Green Well. Robbed ‘im and cut off his head. Taking ‘em to the Green Well to see what they wanna charge ‘em with.”

The greying, scarred old captain adjusted his belt. Afheesh was at a loss but was curious how this was going to play out.

Isis (at me): “HEY! You can try to RESCUE US!”

Me: “*ahem* Evil game.”

Isis: “crap”

Jenn: “I don’t think I like games where we play evil.”

Afheesh thought a little about the situation. He gazed back at his colleagues.

Afheesh (to the Captain): “Soo, what are the benefits of being a guard anyway?”

The Captain: “Ha, ha, you wanna join the guard little ratling? Well, just follow us! After we pick up the charges and return the medallion, we’re headin’ back to the Main Gate. That scum there will face my judgment then. Heh, don’t worry I’m a fair man, I always let the guilty have their say before I execute ’em!”

Afheesh puffed out his chest and proudly marched alongside the captain and the guard as they completed their circuit.

Isis: “Awww! Come on!”

Jenn: “Really!? REALLY!?”

Jenn: *sigh*

Jenn: “I guess this is kind of my fault.”

Isis: “KIND of!”

Cris (the GM): “Well you put that thing on…they tracked it to your room *sputter* and you WEARING it when they busted in! *shrug*”

When the company reached the main city gate just southeast of the Green Well, Afheesh was sent for outfitting while the prisoners were tried in the training yard. The ratling met with one Sergeant Neek whom issued him his kit. He was given a beaten-up wood buckler, a dull bronze skullcap, a short spear fit for his size, and a dirty brown cape fit for his size bearing the thorn ring symbol in black. Pay was 100 bronze thorns (bt) at the end of each 7-day but actually 85 in coin since 5 are for Mezcor and 10 are for taxes.

Sergeant Neek: “And you have to serve at least the greater part of each day that week to get paid! Your first mission is to report to the gate and help me escort the new prisoners to the Tree of Judgment.”

Afheesh: “Wait. How do you already know they’re getting sent to the tree?”

In response, the sergeant just puffed derisively and motioned for him to hurry. In Tanglethorn, the execution of criminals often involves tying them to a tree far outside city thorn-barrier. Typically, something comes along in the Poisonwood that eats and/or kills them soon after abandonment.

About an hour later, Afheesh, in his full guardsman outfit, followed the group of guards as they transported the two prisoners along a barely visible road through the Poisonwood. The two criminals had been stripped naked and were stumbling barefooted through the spiny, spiked, and thorny autumnal waste. They were being dragged behind a strong-wagon by chains and manacles, consequently their feet bloodied and covered in pale thistle burrs and bull thorns.

The wagon was plated in thick bronze plates iron-riveted to the heavy wood frame. Razor-sharp spikes lined its bottom edges and covered its roof; the driver enclosed by chainmail netting. Afheesh kept an eagle eye on Wufcor as the company reached an area of thick dull green overgrowth.

Wufcor (suddenly shouting): “Watch out! Plant monster!”

Afheesh (jamming the butt of his spear into Wufcor’s stomach): “Shut up you pig!”

Suddenly, a large green seedpod emerged from over the bushes and a long purplish spike shot from it lodging in the neck of an unfortunate human rookie guard. Hence, he was sucked dry in almost an instant. So, Afheesh immediately launched himself at the creature slashing it to death with his paired hook-guard daggers. Another previously unseen plant monster emerged and swung a seedpod fist at the ratling but missed. A hard wooden seed shot into the ground narrowly missing Wufcor from yet another plant monster as it emerged from cover. Another creature emerged and stabbed at Pabst with its purple tongue but it missed. Another tongue from yet another creature darted at Afheesh but he easily avoided.

The guards were in full combat against a fair number of these plant monsters, three monsters and five guards were killed in the first minute of fighting. Another tongue stabbed at Afheesh as he dropped a second plant creature. As the fighting began to die down he could see that only seven guards remained and but two monsters still stood. He immediately leapt at and dropped another monster.

Four nameless guards managed to take down the last creature. Afheesh facetiously congratulated the lot of them on killing a single creature together as compared to his three by himself. They sneered at him. Another guard suddenly shouted, “The prisoners, they’re escaping!”

To Be Continued…

RPG War Mastery #7: On Medieval Fantasy Warfare

Both armies are at a standoff across the field of battle, bright banners flap in the slight breeze, the noon sun glints from the gleaming razor tips of spears and the blades of swords and axes. The dread war-engines vibrate the ground as they’re wheeled into position. Catapults, ballistae, and scorpions are readied. The shouts of the sergeants echo up and down the opposing lines and the frontlines begin advancing towards each other.

Suddenly, choruses of hideous roars tear the skies as a group of dragon-riders surge from the horizon swooping over one side and laying waste to the other. Soldiers desperately try to protect themselves with their tower shields and spears in small bristling testudoes. The earth begins to shake beneath the soldiers’ feet frightening the flanks on both sides loosening their formations. The opposing side, victims of the dragon-riders, opens its middle and a tight cluster of stone golems thunder towards the armored heart of their foe.

As the golems crush their way into the enemy’s ranks, the dragons peel off and strafe the stone monsters with fire barely slowing them down. The warriors of each army crash together in a wave of blood and iron their champions leading. A small squad from the dragon-riders’ side engages the golems with a barrage of acid grenades forged by a mercenary alchemist. Both charging sides meet and the momentum breaks like a wave of blood with the deafening clash of steel and shrieks of dying men. From this blood tide, the champions emerge finally meeting in the middle of the chaos and duel to the death for their respective side and causes.

Fireballs and lightning called down from the heavens by war-wizards at the rear ranks of both armies add to the deafening cacophony. Just then, another smaller cadre of dragons darts into the fray above to engage the enemy dragons. The new comers are less in number but with them comes an enormous blue-black dragon complete with a small crew of riders on his back armed with crossbows, lances, alchemical grenades, and other nasty droppers. The sky darkens with smoke, fire blasts, arrows, and large projectiles as the battlefield spreads from horizon to horizon.

It is total chaos, this battle will be devastating and lay waste the battlefield and most of the surrounding territory which may lay fallow for at least a century after. It’s also cool looking and really gives the Player Characters (PCs) and the Game-Master (GM) multiple opportunities to shine.

The Fantasy Battlefield is a spectacle to behold and its aftermath a tragedy to mourn. It provides the opportunity for the full exercise of strategic thinking, high drama, and innovation. As well as providing potentially spectacular set pieces for the GM. In a fantasy setting, when war occurs it is probable a scene very much like that described above will play out with only the scale varying.

That is because if one side is able to obtain a special and powerful weapon the other side, if it has a competent intelligence network, will find out about it before the fighting. Thus, they will rush to enact countermeasures and try to get their hands on either the same type of weapon or anything else of a similar power level. Of course, this will cause an arms race if the other side is equal in espionage. In addition, if actual world history is any evidence when a weapon or strategic advantage becomes available, it will be used even if just once. In the very least, all the contemporary powers will seek it out vigorously.

There are many reasons to implement large battles and carry out war in a fantasy roleplaying game despite the complications to the Game-Master and the possibility of loss on the Player-Characters’ side of things.

War in game terms is a storyline drawn from a series of confrontations including from the political and not just the combat side involving at least two opposing powers. Within this blob of mass confrontations and tangle of story lines is Mass Combat. Mass Combat is more a technical term to describe mechanics that come into play during instances of combat between at least two large masses of characters. During Mass Combat military units (groups of individuals, typically faceless mook type NPCs) engage in combat where the PCs act as champions or sometimes as complete units unto themselves.

Note that Mass Combat mechanics may not be included in some game systems and those that do will vary greatly in how they function. Therefore, any direct or specific mechanical references will be avoided and more general terms and ideas will be favored in this article.

With the basic mechanical ideas of Mass Combat and Combat Units GMs can begin to construct the spectacle of fantasy warfare. As stated before a battlefield, especially if the battle is a big one, is a remarkable sight when gleaming armies face off not to mention when the fantasy elements come into play adding even more spectacle to the fray. These elements are the true fireworks that really make the set piece unique often involving any one of the Big Four by themselves or in combination.

The Big Four

The Big Four refers to the four major weapons on the field of fantasy warfare: dragons/dragon-riders, golems/constructs, wizards/magic-users, and the undead. Dragons/Dragon-Riders are the super weapon on the field whether they themselves are conscripts, generals, or mounts with a rider or crew. They are a game changer on the field and prompt all sorts of countermeasures and strategies. Golems/Constructs are another super-weapon but one that is most useful against enemy ranks and walls. They are very difficult to obtain and may actually be harder than dragons to get. Golems are more equipment or war-machine than soldier and used thus.

On the other hand, Spell-casters on the field can implement any number of weird and highly powerful strategies using a wide array of magical abilities. These are the easiest of the four to obtain typically serving a mercenary or allied role though they may have their own reasons for joining an army on the march. Spell slinging against the opposite side and summoning forth new and terrible foes for the enemy is their primary battlefield strategy. They can also double as espionage and information gathering agents through their magical abilities. Secondary roles depend on the spell caster’s repertoire such as any healing abilities allowing the mage to run battlefield triage.

The last of the big four are the undead. These often being a part of certain forces popularly considered evil or the full ranks of certain villain types like dark lords, liches, and powerful necromancers. Undead forces typically consist of reanimated corpses or skeletons that can function on the battlefield as warriors and with the ability to take at least simple commands. However, they are often of a weaker type of undead and thus are somewhat weaker than the average soldier is.

The primary strategy of such units is always to overwhelm with numbers and rely on the relentlessness of the undead as they never fatigue or tire. The average leader of one of these units is usually a stronger type of undead though often not of an exceptional level. However, Priests or Paladins (holy warriors) that have certain powers that directly counter undead creatures are a common element that opposes these types of units. They are usually also a part of worlds where these types of creatures run common as a form of universal balance.

Logistics for an undead force are somewhat simplified as they do not get fatigued, they will not starve or die of thirst, and inclement weather has to be severe in order to stall or endanger them. However, in a snowstorm they can freeze solid if they have flesh. Under a hot sun or in dank humid weather, their flesh can rot from their bones. These concerns can make certain types of undead such as zombies less of a threat under specific weather conditions.

Local resistance may be easily directed against a force of undead moving through specific areas. This includes certain religious forces that may have no real interest in the ongoing struggle other than to vanquish the walking blasphemy of the undead. Disease is also a concern when dealing with a diverse army that consists of living and dead forces, as is the predation of the dead upon the living. In addition, those unfortunate enough to be in the way of that force’s path whether allied or not might suffer or die without necessarily being a direct target.

The Big Four are by no means the only exceptional things on the fantasy battlefield.  There are also the humanoid powerhouses, which seem on the surface to be more appropriate as powerful soldiery or heavy infantry. This would include such creatures as orcs, trolls, ogres, giants, among others. These may be easier to recruit and maybe to maintain than the Big Four but they would primarily be soldiers and may have certain restrictions imposed on them depending on the setting. Aside from the usual Dark Lord, they may be completely unavailable due to the darkness of their monstrous hearts and even blacker souls (again depending on the setting).

These are not included in the Big Four as they are definitely a remarkable sight but they function much as standard soldiery with perhaps ballistic capability like a hybrid field piece (i.e. giants). Along with the powerhouse-humanoids on the fields of fantasy combat are the unconventional technology and strategies inspired by actual history and that produced by alchemy.

Alchemical Fire

Alchemy is the formulation and creation of certain meta-magical substances through a means that is a mix between modern chemistry and ancient mysticism, a lesser form of magic. The products that alchemy can produce aside from its historical focus on converting lead to gold can be useful on the battlefield though they would be expensive and in short supply. Alchemical substances such as napalm, phosphorous, fumes (gases), acids, naphtha, and black powder are especially of note. If an army is using even one of these as ammunition, they would require the alchemist(s) to tag along and replace spent ammo and to consult on countermeasures against enemy alchemical warfare. Note that alchemical ammunition could be jars, pots, or glass bulbs filled with chemicals launched from catapults even small clay-vessel grenades.

Alchemy only requires an alchemist and raw materials to produce the items and substances required by the commander. The alchemists themselves may or may not be mages depending on the system although typically mages will also have the ability to create these substances as well. These alchemists cannot only create gases, acids, napalm, and alchemical grenades but may also produce chemicals and drugs that could conceivably create alchemical super-soldiers by enhancing the common soldiery. However, this sort of strategy always comes with inherent risk and severe costs.

These costs inherent to alchemically enhanced soldiers being such things as drastically shortened lives, the risk of berserk units going on uncontrollable rampages, and even weirder effects such as soldiers just spontaneously combusting. Magical mutation and random transformations are also a possible side effect. Alchemists may also produce drugs that have very similar effects to those found in the real world and whose side effects only become noticeable in the long term sometimes long after the combat is over (for example: the German Military in WWII). This brings us to black powder.

Black powder in a medieval context would most likely be in the forms of low yield bombs or grenades. Explosives would be the domain of sappers and those seeking to undermine enemy fortifications. More advanced approaches to gunpowder would be the use of primitive match-lit guns (probably hand-cannons and fire-lances) and cannons but these would be impossible to aim and run the risk of explosion. Not to mention they would be very expensive even if there were a skilled enough engineer/armorer that could forge an effective and safe artillery piece. However, monster-sized cannonry could be a shocking set piece for an epic siege; a historical example being the Dardanelles Gun.

After massive bombards, rockets seem to be the next phase in technical superiority but again in a medieval setting if they exist then they will be expensive to produce and impossible to aim once fired. The main task would be to find the metalworker skilled enough to make the tube. These would be a fine counter to enemy dragons but the risk of explosion at ignition might balance that advantage to a certain extent. The forms of these rockets would range from fire arrows to the top technical achievement of iron-cased rockets. Given the ability to carry an alchemical payload, they could be more effective than those found in actual ancient history.

Heavy reliance on alchemical munitions and/or potions adds an alchemist and his entourage plus mobile equipment and laboratory to the logistics. Their wagon and any additional supply vehicles would become targets and the expense to maintain the alchemist’s mobile lab and supplies would be significant. However, do not discount the inventiveness of ancient unconventional warfare. Poisoned arrows, scorpions & poisonous snakes in large clay vessels or diseased corpses launched by catapult, warbeasts like elephants, and psychological attacks (severed heads of prisoners catapulted over city walls) increase battlefield options and are inspired by history. Just note that these tactics are a supplement to conventional warfare and tactics, not replacements.

Steam Punkery & Clockwork

With alchemists featuring on the field of fantasy warfare, clockwork and steam power warrant some discussion. Clockwork technology requires a power source (springs are possible for smaller clockwork), which could be magical but would also require advanced math for the engineering, tools, and skills to construct the parts. Similarly, steam technology would require a heat source and the storage capacity of the water required and the steam as well as well as the plumbing and knowledge of the pressures involved. Again, expensive, accidental explosions are possible, and an advanced knowledge of engineering is required for large enough engines, jets, etc. to be viable engines of war.

These limits do make it a rarity in medieval settings and more fit for Victorian era or even renaissance set campaigns but this type of technology can be possible with magic-users just not on an industrial level. The power source is probably magic or draconic in nature so still magic or at least relying on a magical power source to produce steam or electricity in order to make the machinery parts function. Making steam and larger clockwork weapons and vehicles the purview of hybrid spell casters, those that somehow have a solid knowledge of certain sciences like physics, math, and engineering as well as arcane ability. This fact alone probably makes them a rarity in any world where science and magic do not exist together in equal portion.

Steam-tech and clockwork make lower tech versions of modern weapons and vehicles possible such as tanks, cannons, and rockets – maybe even robot-like constructs but below the level of the Golem Army; steam powered war chariots, steam cannons, steam jets or even certain aircraft such as blimps or hot air balloons. All even in limited or singular quantity would be invaluable to a battlefield commander. Note that hot air balloons may be more in reach than the other examples.

This type of magical technology is not only out of place in a medieval battlefield but would be a massive surge forward in technology even if the source may be magical/alchemical. The apparatus and machinery operating on the steam from the source requires expert engineering and a high level of metalworking and forging. Essentially, the friendly neighborhood blacksmith and even armorer will not have the skill, knowledge, nor tools available to craft the highly engineered parts required not to mention the skills to design them. Powers acquiring such war-tech will make those with the skills and ability to create such things of extremely high value both as targets and as assets even if they are unwilling.

Once this type of technology rolls out onto the battlefield the culture itself would go into violent convulsions and types of confrontations not possible before may become commonplace such as rebellions among the peasantry and merchant classes, religious organizations that may hold vast wealth obtaining such technology, nobility being supplanted by technocracy, etc. What is sure is that if the technology is not “lost” in some fashion it will propagate and irreversibly alter your world in a few decades.

The other drawback is that a lone engineer, wizard, or alchemist probably will not have the skills, power, and resources to create more than a single clockwork or steam-powered type weapon which even though very valuable as a secret weapon or weapon of terror is very little use as a true weapon of war. This would also make them extremely expensive as well as requiring the development of certain resources to occur before they are even a possibility.

Why War?

The reasons to include war in your worlds and campaigns is manifold, the few mentioned previously in other parts of this series are the main benefits that apply to the GM and the PCs. There are diegetic reasons however; these are the reasons war might spring up organically due to conditions and elements in the fantasy world itself. The first is Good vs. Evil (GvE) of course true battles between to the two forces means that the campaign world exists in a Manichean universe. However, this GvE struggle does not have to be actual just the participants have to believe that they are the good guys and their opponents the bad.

Another prime motive for war is piratical. War solely for the purpose of the plunder and glory it will yield regardless of the price. Unscrupulous warriors, commanders, and politicians may want to participate just for the shear thrill and fun. This reason for war is reliant mostly on the greed of the participants but includes other more emotional motives not laser focused on one goal but harnessed in order to fuel the war effort.

War for profit and land is similar to the piratical reasons though with intentions to settle, occupy, or otherwise take ownership of them against the indigenous peoples’ will transforms piratical aims into Conquest. Another goal in this vein may be to secure a stream of revenue or eliminate a penalty (i.e. tax/tariff) on your goods exported to the targeted lands this being known as Imperialism. These last two, Conquest and Imperialism, can get a little dicey when roleplaying through them especially when sorting through the justifications for such but the role-play drama potential is also very high.

In addition, in medieval settings war for the securing of power and/or eliminating the competition may erupt frequently. Similarly, civil wars or wars of ascension may occur in large scale within or between certain countries. Smaller wars could breakout between nobility as well for any of the previously stated reasons including wars of pure ego and even ritualistic war. Religiously motivated war is also a factor especially where there is an entrenched religious power.

Religion can add an ugly side to any war regardless of the reasons and motivations behind it but certain religious powers may also ignite wars for purely religious reasons. These may be to convert nonbelievers or eliminate them or to combat a rival religious power. This is especially true when it comes to Crusades. All of these, if not initially, tend to feature or evolve to include strong profit motives very similar to piratical warfare but this cause can rapidly evolve into something even more insidious when philosophy becomes ideology in order to justify it.

War Master

Aside from the opportunity for strategy and high drama, there are other values to the GM of Fantasy Warfare in their campaigns. Set piece battles can give the events a sense of increasing scale and put the PCs through a trial by fire. They can also allow the PCs to be innovative and allow them to think strategically.

To bring in a sense of scale a GM should begin with standard medieval style battles and gradually move towards the high fantasy by gradually adding the fantasy elements as they increase in scope. This elevates a standard battle scene making each new fight a bigger spectacle especially if there have been previous battle scenes, it gives the GM a place to go that still elevates the action. It also grounds the action before it starts to become fantastical. To do this a GM needs to start gritty and small making the ruin of the post-battle field evident early on. Then escalate with increasing numbers and ever more present and inventive war engines and have known and beloved NPCs die in the fighting to heighten drama and the sense of risk.

Bring in the surprise elements of high fantasy (the Big Four) as the twist in the bigger battles and build the suspense of what will appear on the field for the next. By this time, the risk to valued NPCs should be evident, the stakes should be high to match the massive spectacle, and the Players by now should be able to fill in the devastation built on the vivid pictures of the comparatively smaller tragedies.

The larger battles including the final one can as set pieces widen the scope of the game world. They can deepen the souls of its characters through trial by fire with those burnt suffering the deepest test of their characters. This intensity should come in the later/last battles. However, all battles should inspire some sort of innovation on the part of the PCs. They could use their skills and character knowledge/powers to invent new modes of war or defense. The PCs should at least try to strategize and think about their resources. They may need to seek out new resources or gather their existent monies to finance invention maybe built on plans that they have cultivated.

What about the Adventurers?

Speaking of Players and their characters, why wouldn’t a warring faction have need of them? Are not reputed adventurers themselves a sort of weapon, though often unpredictable, on the battlefield that can swing the fortunes of war on a whim? PCs should be assumed to be heading an army or allied much like individual magic-users. They may be a part of the army because they have similar interests or other secret motives. A small unit of famous adventurers is probably more valuable as a scouting unit, recruiters, espionage unit, and/or flank guards for important command units in the rear or middle ranks.

Adventurers that are not valued or are being mishandled can find themselves in the front ranks as skirmishers. Nevertheless, if the PCs are not in any command positions then wide scale battle simply turns into a nerve-racking bore with a mindless hackfest to follow. Granted the group can maneuver on the field to hit what they see as relevant targets in the course of the battle possibly bringing some attention to themselves. This proving themselves on the field may warrant a promotion to better positions later.

Conclusion

When implementing fantasy warfare in your games keep in mind the implications of fantastical munitions, weapons, warbeasts, and the arms race it can spark. Do not forget historical ancient unconventional warfare either. Also, learn the major strategies and logistics involved in the Big Four or any special units that will be involved and give the PCs plenty of opportunity to be affected by and to affect the outcome including when they are on the losing side. Though the in-game political climate and economic reasons may contribute to the cause of war, the primary motivations for powers to engage in it are often limited to fighting “evil”, for plunder, or conquest/imperialism.

The fantasy tropes of the battlefield (the Big Four) have their strengths and weaknesses though their advantages may outweigh their burdens vastly. It seems the best countermeasure against an enemy with even one of these heavy hitters at their disposal is to get one of your own. Essentially if one side has a good enough intelligence network or if they suffer a single defeat at the feet of one to these super-weapons then they will desperately seek to not only sabotage and undermine their enemy’s efforts but begin their own to match force for force. This can be interesting in that it will set off a magic medieval arms race; a very interesting prospect indeed.

The GM can use war to enhance their fantasy campaign by using it in escalating portions, induce player innovation, and as a set piece in the campaign to put exclamation marks at the desired points. According to my brief and shallow research on the subject, just about half of campaigns incorporate Mass Combat and warfare at least some of the time. Maybe it is time for more GMs and their groups to explore the gaming potential of fantasy warfare.

 

Rats of Tanglethorn Pt.5: The Ruthless Trio

Afheesh (played by me) yanked his bloodied weapon from the throat of the Bronze Boy at his feet. The ruthless trio had just made quick work of a small group of Bronze Boy gang members. Consequently they had looted some 40 bronze thorns (bt’s), 4 dirks, and 4 saps. Pabst (played by Jenn) collected their bronze badges, their gang colors. Wufcor (played by Isis) suggested they all take the badges to the Troll Boys’ hangout, the Bloody Tankard, to see if they could score some free drinks.

It was not long after the three found themselves before a rundown saloon front. It was of pale cracked wood built onto the ground level of one of the old orange stone buildings. A hot yellow light poured through the entryway as did a pungent stream of smoke. Hanging from the placard hitch was a broken tankard, brown stained or rusted they could not tell which. There was a large group of Troll Boys out front guarding the door. A few appeared to have troll blood oozing in their veins but most were human. Pabst was the first to approach.

Pabst (tossing the Bronze Boy badges to the dirt): “How many drinks are these worth?”

The Ugliest Troll Boy (spits on the badges): “Maybe a half jack! We do our own fightin’, we don’t pay others to fight fer us!”

Pabst (undeterred): “Well then, do you Troll Boys have any GOOD fighters among you?”

Isis: “Sis…”

The Ugliest Troll Boy laughed at her and poked his head into the bar from over the saloon doors. Consequently he shouted a name none of the trio could make out, it could have been in trollish for all they knew. However, to their relief a human stepped to the door. He walked slowly out to the creaking plank porch with an air of supreme arrogance about him. He had a scale-mail vest and gleaming bronze bracers on his forearms. Circling Pabst for a few seconds and smirking said, “You’re too wounded to fight me tonight. Come back when you’ve healed and meet your death at the edge of my blade”. With that he turned heel and walked nonchalantly back inside.

Jenn (checking her character sheet): “Crap! I am still wounded, BAD!”

The trio parted ways shortly thereafter. Pabst and Wufcor headed off to find a White Star Guild house of healing and then back to the Yellow Lotus Inn to rest. Afheesh headed to the livery for food and some simple companionship for the night.

Several hours and 1,500 bt’s later at dawn Afheesh arrived refreshed and impatient in front of the Bloody Tankard. The place was shuttered until noon. The other two arrived sometime after with Pabst appearing fully healed. When they had seen the place was shut tight for another few hours they decided to go to the nearest armorer. There Pabst purchased a high quality bronze medium shield for 1,400 bt’s.

On the way back to the Bloody Tankard the ruthless trio was assailed from an alley by three giant earwigs. They made quick work of the monsters with Afheesh slaughtering two of them and Wufcor and Pabst slaying the last.

It was not long after the three were again in front of the Troll Boys’ clubhouse. The fighter that Pabst had challenged the previous evening was sitting leisurely on a chair leaned against the doorframe, his booted feet up on a stool. At his side was a rapier-like weapon with a razor-sharp polished blade, a full brass knuckle-guard, and a pommel spike. He was a professional swordsman, a Quick Blade.

The Quick Blade (taking his pipe from his lips): “So, what is it that we are dueling for?”

The trio proposed that the prize be a shot from the green bottle at the Green Bottle Tavern. The Quick Blade agreed and then terms of the fighter were worked out, drawing first blood would make the winner. That last stipulation was Pabst’s idea by the way.

As the gathering crowd of Troll Boys and curious passerby marked out the ring, Afheesh slipped into the Bloody Tankard unseen. He found two locked doors of interest in the empty bar when he heard the crowd lament then the Quick Blade and the Troll Boys laughing in victory. He darted back outside.

The Quick Blade had drawn first blood on the very first strike of the fight.

Jenn: “Awww! But I’m a GREAT duelist!”

Cris (the GM): “Well, his back is turned to you and the Troll Boys are congratulating him.”

Jenn: “Umm…”

Isis: “Sis! We might be over our heads here!”

Cris: “So, do you do it or not?”

Jenn: *sigh* “No, I put my sword away.”

Later, that evening the trio, the Quick Blade and five Troll Boys sat at the bar in the Green Bottle. Afheesh had already put down the money for the shot from the titular green bottle. The Quick Blade held up the small glass with green swirling liquor in it.

The Quick Blade: “Whosoever would duel over this shot may have it as their prize!”

Hence, a Troll Boy stepped forward. Afheesh sighed in disgust and stepped forward drawing his paired weapons.

Afheesh (looking back at his companions and shrugging): “I paid for it, it’s mine.”

Suddenly, the troll-blood lunged and struck with his dirk missing the agile ratling. As a result Afheesh jabbed with both blades striking deep, wounding the troll-blood badly. In desperation, the Troll Boy slashed narrowly missing his target (by 1 pt.). So Afheesh retorted killing the Troll Boy instantly.

The Quick Blade (sliding the shot glass over to the ratling): “I guess this is yours.”

Without thinking, the ratling slung it down and when it hit the bottom, he began to feel dizzy. However, he did fight off the dizziness and as a slight drowsiness faded, he felt strangely invigorated. Meanwhile, the Troll Boys grumbled as the swordsman led them out of the tavern. Finally, Wufcor approached Afheesh and gave him a small sack of coins.

Wufcor: “I made a little side bet. Here’s your share.”

The purse contained 150 bt’s so feeling very refreshed by the strange green booze, Afheesh decided to take his leave and go back to his favorite place, the livery. A jaunt in his step he whistled as left the place.

To Be Continued…