“Once upon a time in the Wilderlands,” nearly 10 years on…

I recently realized that August 25, 2017 will mark 10 years of refereeing campaigns in the Wilderlands.  I had run a Wilderlands adventure previously (a B/X one-shot of Jaquays’ “Night of the Walking Wet” from the Dungeoneer Compendium), but 8/25/07 marked my first attempt at running a game in more of the “sandbox” style then (and still) being discussed by OSR folks on blogs and forums.  I had picked up the Necromancer Games’ Wilderlands stuff a few years earlier — the Wilderlands of High Fantasy box set, City State of the Invincible Overlord, and the Players Guide to the Wilderlands — and was itching to use it in play.

It was initially set in the Roglaroon region of the CSIO map, focused on a reskinned version of the classic module B2: The Keep on the Borderlands.  For rules I used Castles & Crusades (of which I was a big fan before my attention shifted to OD&D), supplemented by the AD&D1e Dungeon Masters Guide and the Judges Guild Ready Ref Sheets.  Here’s the writeup from the first session:

Player Characters (PCs)
Iona, female Elf Wizard 1
Meena of Dorn, female Human Assassin 1
Rocky, male Human Cleric 1
Xamot, male Altanian Ranger 1

Non-Player Characters (NPCs)
Kellen (Kel) and Kleegin (Klee) Barrelmaker, male Human mercenaries
Father Mychus, Temple Curate
Brother Minius, Temple Acolyte (missing)
Johannes, Taverner
Epano, Sergeant of the Guard

The story so far:
BCCC (Balozkinar’s Corrected Commoner’s Calendar) 10 Thistleburn 2294
The PCs met aboard a merchant ship sailing down the Roglaroon River from City State towards Modron.  Shortly downriver from the caravan crossing at Bier, the ship was attacked by pirates; in a brief but bloody skirmish, they were driven off by the combined efforts of the PCs and the hardy crew.  Iona the mage was knocked unconscious, several of the crew were killed or wounded; the ship was also damaged, which forced it to dock at the nearby outpost of Riverkeep– a base for pirate-hunting patrols and a point for brave traders heading into the Dearthwood– for repairs.  After administering magical aid to Iona, Rocky took the still-unconscious but stabilized mage to the local temple for further healing; meanwhile, Meena and Xamot went to the tavern to gather information about the locale and current events.

Rocky and a fully-restored Iona learned from the aging Father Mychus that a valuable relic–a jade medallion blessed by Mitra, god of Justice–had gone missing along with Brother Minius, who left two weeks ago (with a guard detachment of two soldiers) to perform an exorcism in a nearby village in the Dearthwood.  Nothing had been heard of the acolyte or the relic; in appreciation for Mychus’ aid, Iona offered her (and the party’s) assistance in tracking down the missing pair.  Rocky and Iona then met up with Meena and Xamot in the tavern; the latter two had gleaned some similar information from the tavernkeeper, Johannes.  Deciding to take the advice of Father Mychus, the group decided to seek some mercenary assistance before heading into the dangerous Dearthwood forest.  Epano, the Sergeant of the Guard, introduced them to Kel, a sellsword who had some experience travelling in the wood; after some bargaining, the services of Kel and his brother Klee were secured for the fee of two gold per day plus ten percent of any treasure or reward.

Early the next morning (11 Thistleburn), the party set out on the forest trade path towards the village of Verris under a gloomy grey sky.  After an hour or so of hiking, Xamot the ranger noticed that the party was being paced by several unidentified creatures.  The party came into a small clearing, in the center of which stood a fifteen-foot-tall stone pillar.  The ancient stone was weathered and pitted; carved on this in bas-relief were four armored, dragon-helmed humanoid figures, facing the four cardinal directions.  Closer inspection showed evidence of some care and tending of the statues, as moss and vine growth had been cleared from the likenesses of the warriors; however, none of the party members were able to identify the style of the strange armor or the age of the pillar.  Without further ado, the party continued down the path towards Verris.

A few minutes later, the creatures which had been pacing the party–four mountain lions–sprang from the undergrowth to attack.  The party managed to slay the savage beasts, but not without injury; none but Iona escaped the melee unscathed, and Meena was knocked out in the lions’ fierce attack.  The party of adventurers then decided to slaughter the lions for meat; after reviving Meena and eating some lion meat, the group made the last leg of the trek to Verris.  Before reaching the village, they came across the site of some violence– a merchant caravan had been attacked, and the bodies of several dead hobgoblins were visible.  Bloodstains led off the track into the forest; nearby was the corpse of a soldier wearing the uniform of a Riverkeep guardsman.  The party opted to continue to Verris, where they could learn more about the fate of Brother Minius and the missing relic (and nurse their wounds a bit).

Inquiries of local persons (the mayor, the trading post merchant, and the smith) regarding Minius’ absence were less than helpful.  Brother Minius had never arrived in the village; the events warranting exorcism–strange sounds and a sickness localized on a single household–seemed to have resolved themselves in a satisfactory, if strangely abrupt, manner.  While in Verris, the party sold the lion meat to the innkeeper, after an unsuccessful attempt by Meena to pass it off as catoblepas meat to the grumpy dwarven trader.  They also managed to secure some herbal healing from the local alchemist.

On their way out of the village, they were approached by a young boy, who claimed to have seen Brother Minius’ abduction by hobgoblins in a dream.  He told the party that the hobgoblins took the acolyte and the relic to a nearby network of caves, known locally as the “Caves of Chaos”.  The adventurers thanked him and made directly for the caves, which they reached as afternoon was fading into evening…

If memory serves, that first Wilderlands campaign ran for a year or so before scheduling difficulties caused it to grind to a halt.  The players eventually made their way south to Zothay and had a bunch of adventures in Barbarian Altanis.  I can’t recall all the particulars of the campaign, but we had a lot of fun.  In retrospect I’d say it wasn’t a great success as a truly open “sandbox” experience, but it was my first time and I certainly learned a lot in the process.


catching up with the Wilderlands campaign

A quick update about what has happened in the Wilderlands campaign since the last entry here:

  • The PCs signed on with an archaeological expedition headed by the Viridian scholar JANURISH ZEM, who was searching for lost ruins of the Thracian civilization, which was overrun and eradicated by the Orichalan Empire centuries ago.
    • En route to the lower Padizan Peninsula, the party stopped at the mysterious Isle of Beasts — an island populated by beasts and ruled by a talking lion.  Atop a hill at the isle’s center, the golden apex of a pyramid peeked above the treeline.  The PCs were unable to investigate, as the Lion commanded all two-legs to be off the island by sunset or be slain.
    • Traveling with the expedition to the jungles of the lower Padizan Peninsula, the PCs found and explored part of an underground complex.  Therein they found Thracian artifacts and fought lizardmen and gnolls.
  • After several forays into the ruin (and some near-death encounters therein), the party decided to part ways with Zem and return to Greenwax on the next supply ship.  Unfortunately, the ship was attacked by a pirate vessel, the Golden Fang, captained by the fearsome ZARUNNA THE BONE-MAIDEN.  The captain was killed by a ballista bolt, and — to the party’s dismay — the demoralized crew quickly surrendered.  Zarunna was fascinated by the golden-furred halfling Gnomee, and offered him wealth to be her “companion.”  He agreed, on condition that the rest of the party be spared and taken on as crew.  After an interview process, Zarunna agreed.
    • Zarunna is obsessed with taking revenge against the Ralluvian wizard HEMLIGAR, who cursed the young Skandik shield-maiden after she violently rejected his lecherous advances.   The curse has caused the beautiful Zarunna’s skin to turn transparent, gruesomely displaying her bones and internal workings; she normally wears a delicate silver mask and embroidered robes
    • Zarunna’s latest intelligence reports indicate that Hemligar is traveling to the Lake of the Gods on the Isle of the Blest
  • When the Golden Fang anchored at a nameless isle to take on fresh water, the party went ashore to explore.  They found a bricked-up chamber in the side of a hill, and decided to break in.  Inside, they found a small chapel with a great brass statue of a bull at one end, with a glimmering jewel set in its forehead.  The temptation of the jewel proved too great for the normally-cautious party, and their desire for treasure proved disastrous.  When the jewel was removed, the brass bull animated and breathed a cloud of noxious vapor at the adventurers, which petrified Gnomee, Baldwen, and Earthangel.  Thanks to a mix of quick thinking and luck, the party managed to stop the bull by replacing the jewel in its forehead.  Zarunna was heartbroken that her pet companion Gnomee had been turned to stone, and immediately sailed for the Isle of the Blest in search of a cleric.  After landing in a port town on the western side of the Isle and finding the temple, she agreed to front the party the money to pay for Baldwen and Earthangel’s restoration.


Rumors and recent events

ITEM: An adventuring party led by the famous fighter FRUD THE FEARLESS recently arrived in town last week.  Frud, resplendent in his lacquered-white plate armor and dashing blood-red ascot, rode on a magnificent black charger.  The rest of his group followed behind in a colorfully-painted gypsy wagon drawn by a massive hound.  Frud and his three companions spent coin freely at the Sea Devil Saloon, primarily to feed the gluttonous appetites of the party’s thief and the aforementioned hound, and bragged of their exploits in defeating a number of terrible foes.  The party also boasted of their plans to put an end to the mysterious bandit attacks in Satur, but have not been seen in the five days since they went into the Old City.

ITEM:  the renowned Viridian scholar JANURISH ZEM is in town for several days’ layover en route to the lower Padizan Peninsula.  He is leading an expedition in search of ruins of the ancient Thracian civilization that once flourished on the lower peninsula before being conquered by the Orichalans.  The priesthood of Hecate is interested in sending a representative on the expedition, as the worship of that deity was popular in Thracian culture.

ITEM: Fort Axilar has been attacked by the ape-man warrior MARROS and his bandit gang.  They set fires, killed a number of guardsmen, and escaped with several crates of rare healing herbs that had been harvested from the jungle.  Bounty for Marros has been increased to 1,000 gold pieces, dead or alive.

A meeting with the Troll Witch (09/10/16 session postlude)

Making their way along the road northeast from Greenwax, the party passed through a bucolic landscape of farms and pastures before reaching their journey’s goal: a copse of trees at the center of which is a mighty Oak tree held sacred by woodland beastfolk, worshippers of Silvanus, and humans who cling to the Old Ways.  There, seated on a carved menhir smoothed by time and the elements sat GRUNETHA, the Troll Witch.


Initially disappointed that these were not worshippers bearing a halfling-sized food offering, Grunetha offered the party the following information in exchange for a snack of human flesh (the severed hand they found in the Maze’s entry chamber):

  • The answer to the mystery of Gnomee’s parentage lies in the DOLMENWOOD.  “The Painter knows the way” — referring to a long-dead Orichalan painter (and resident of Satur) named ZEMNOTH IXEL.  Grunetha gave the following cryptic warnings about the Dolmenwood:
    • “The way in is not also the way out.”
    • “Those who enter the Dolmenwood are changed.”
  • Turning to EARTHANGEL, Grunetha informed the amnesiac Terran to seek the BLACK ZIGGURAT, a place of great evil and power found in the legends of all cultures of the Wilderlands.  To find the Ziggurat, “seek the Shunned House.”
  • Several times, Grunetha demanded that the party bring her Orange Mold, a rare fungus that grows in the “deep places.”  After returning to Greenwax, the party was informed by Werbin that Orange Mold is highly prized by alchemists, and he would give 100gp for an ounce of the intact fungus.


09/10/16 session

The adventuring party for this session consisted of:

  • GNOMEE, catlike Halfling Thief (Footpad);
  • JUNIPER, Cleric of Hecate (Acolyte);
  • EARTHANGEL, amnesiac Terran Fighting-Woman (Veteran);
  • BALDWEN, Dwarf Fighter (Veteran); and
  • MARGARITA, Lizardfolk Fighter (Veteran)

The party assembled at the Sea Devil Saloon and decided that the Barrowmaze was the place to go, considering that their last foray had met with such great success.  With their faithful torchbearers (One-Ear Jim and Bald Pete) and porter (Owse) and a trio of men-at-arms in tow, they set off again to the great barrow field north of the Old City.

Their first trip of the session was focused on two side barrows (#12, 14):

  1. After a difficult excavation (interrupted by a wandering group of skeletons, which JUNIPER turned with her holy symbol), the party descended into the mound and found some decorative amphorae, which they decided to bring back to town before heading to the central barrow;
  2. Smashing through the stone door of the second mound, the party descended the stairs and were surprised by a group of giant centipedes lairing in the chamber.  Fortunately, the group managed to avoid the poisonous bites and dispatch the insects.  The four sarcophagi looked to contain members of a family (two adults, two children) — a well-to-do family at that, since the corpses were buried with several hundred gold pieces’ worth of jewelry and grave goods.

Back at the barrow field, the party made their way back into the Maze through the central barrow.  In the entry chamber they found fresh bloodstains and a severed human hand, which they took with them.  Returning to the junction where they had previously slain a horde of undead, the group continued their exploration…

  • Two ghouls were slain, but not before sorely wounding BALDWEN and EARTHANGEL (who was also temporarily paralyzed)
  • While resting and bandaging wounds after the fight, the group heard whispered voices talking: “…I’m pretty sure we stashed it right around the corner…”  When the PCs ventured forth to parley, the opposing group (of at least three people) fled north through the door into the triangular room (“Oh crap, cultists!  Quick, back through the door and spike it shut!”)
  • The party then encountered a group of eight giant rats feasting on a recently-deceased adventurer.  The party used fire to corral the rats into a corner, where the giant vermin were easily picked off with missiles.  Examining the corpse, the party was thrilled to see a familiar signet ring on its hand — the missing son of the Viridian nobleman!  After some debate, both corpse and ring were loaded onto poor Owse for return to Greenwax.
  • On their way back up to the triangular room, the party was attacked by four flying creatures that looked like a cross between a bat and a giant mosquito.  Attacking with their needlelike probosces, the bloodthirsty Stirges made short work of the three men-at-arms and badly wounded MARGARITA before being slain.
  • The group smashed through the door into the triangular room and made their way back to town with no further wandering monster encounters.

Back in town…

  • They returned the body of the young adventurer to his father, SHA-UMLEK.  The Viridian nobleman thanked the group and rewarded them 500gp for their efforts.  Before departing, he offered them a kind welcome and employment should they find themselves in Viridistan.
  • GNOMEE received some disappointing news from Garzeth: although the town council greatly appreciated Gnomee’s generous “donation” of 100gp, Garzeth doesn’t see how a hireling life insurance company would be profitable.  Leaving Garzeth, Gnomee then returned to his idea about opening a bank…
  • Wanting to prove her hypothesis regarding GNOMEE’s possibly-otherworldly origins (given his unusual, vaguely-feline appearance), JUNIPER learned that a certain sage, the Troll Witch of the Great Tree, has knowledge of many worlds and may be able to help solve the mystery.

8/26/16 session

Sorry for the very belated writeup, apologies if I’ve forgotten anything in the meantime…

The assembled adventuring party this session consisted of:

  • GNOMEE, downy halfling thief;
  • CYRIANA, doomed elf magic-user;
  • CSKILLET, lizardman fighter;
  • EARTHANGEL, Terran fighting-woman; and
  • BALDWEN, dwarf fighter

The group met up with a dwarf fighter, BALDWEN, during their downtime at the Sea Devil Saloon.  With the Viridian nobleman’s son still missing (and presumed dead) and the specter of an evil cult operating outside the city, the party decided to undertake another foray into the Barrowmaze.

The group explored several areas in the main complex.  Although they didn’t accomplish either of their primary objectives, they did manage to rid the Barrowmaze of a fair number of unpleasant denizens, including an epic battle against a score of zombies and skeletons which was decided by the PCs good tactical use of oil, caltrops, holy water, and missile fire to whittle down the opposing force before melee.  None of the adventurers were slain in the Maze, but they did lose their men-at-arms — three of them, including the faithful veteran Luumo, were slain in the final battle, and the fourth (Gar) fled the fight, badly wounded and panicking, into the depths of the Maze.

The group returned to Greenwax with a nice haul of mixed coinage, several magicked items (a suit of leather armor, dragon-emblazoned shield, bracers, and mace) and a Runic Tablet.  Cyriana, who had experienced mixed luck with these tablets in the past, stoutly resisted the urge to read the tablet whilst in the Maze, but succumbed to temptation once reaching town.  Unfortunately, the tablet she read was of the cursed variety, and was immolated when the Glyph of Warding exploded in flames…

Greenwax: recent events and rumors

ITEM: The Ilmessa, a ship out of Viridistan bound for Rallu and Zothay, disappeared from Greenwax’s harbor along with its valuable cargo of spices.  Captain and crew are all present in town, except for the four men left aboard to guard the ship whose bodies were found in the harbor.  Local authorities have no concrete leads, but rumors swirl about the involvement of the Shadow Monkeys, a loose criminal organization that operates up and down the peninsulas (Antillian and neighboring Padizan Peninsula to the east)

ITEM: A traveler from Zothay brings news that the great monster-hunter, SARL THE SLAYER, is planning a new expedition to the Valley of the Ancients in search of the Palace of the Dragon Emperor, fabled lair of the most ancient of dragons.

ITEM: Messengers from Fort Axilar report that the feared beastman warrior MARROS and his bandit gang are again active in the Axilar Delta region.  The Commander of the fort has posted a bounty of 500 gp for Marros’s head.

ITEM: A gang of bandits has been waylaying adventurers in the Old City.  They are well-organized, with magic and monsters on their side.  Mostly encountered in the southwestern part of Satur near the Old Docks and Tower of Birds.

ITEM: A sailor, recently arrived from Chim (in Ghinor), reports strange incidents from his voyage: two adjacent islands with freakish weather — one was cold and snowing, the other hot and dry — and another where the landing party narrowly escaped from an attack by a metal giant with ruby eyes.

ITEM: Exploring the countryside or delving into the ruins?  Hard coin offered for the following regents, inquire at Werbin’s for more details:

  • Sulfur Onion — 30 gp per bulb
  • Emerald Honey — 100 gp per gallon
  • Giant Frog tongues — 25 gp per tongue
  • Giant Spider silk glands — various, depending on variety