Thursday, January 19, 2017

Notes from the Nystul campaign

In pursuit of further knowledge of the Restenford realm, I found myself wandering around over at the Dragonsfoot Archives the other day and found this old issue of Footprints magazine from 2005 lying around in one of the stalls in the mens room. What's intriguing about this issue to you and me is that it's got an article written up by the original Lord of Lendore, Mr. Lakofka himself. The article is a description of the "Nystul Campaign," during which he took several members of the Nystul family on a guided tour of Lendore Isle back in the late 70s-mid 80s. The bulk of the text is dedicated to house rules and meta-y stuff written with that tone of braggadocio you often hear when old timers talk about how things were back in the day. But around page 16 he starts to get into some of the historical details of the campaign. Here are the highlights:
  1. After clearing out the castle at Bone Hill, the Nystuls refurbished it, renamed it Voxbonder Abby, and dedicated it to the god Phaulkon.
  2. The Duke of Kroten was indeed evil, as one might have surmised by the existence of his malevolent spy occupying the bait shop in Restenford.
  3. The Nystuls deposed said duke and his henchmen at some point in the campaign.
  4. To the north of the city of Kroten was an evil town called Grellton which was named after the deity Grell.
  5. Grell had his name changed to "Llerg" when the Suel deities went public because there was already a monster called Grell in the Fiend Folio
  6. Presumably this Grell character is also the namesake of the dearly departed Grellus, Baron of Restenford.
  7. It's too bad that TSR didn't change Grellus's name to Llergus.
  8. Grellton was renamed as Dwarfhaven after the Nystuls were done with it.
  9. No mention is made in this history of Garrottenford or the assassination of Baron Grellus. 
  10. That's too bad because I would like to know what the Nystuls would have called Garrottenville after they were done with it.
  11. In a room under Voxbonder Abby There was a "teleporter" that transported you to Asmogorgon, a fortress occupied by devils, demons, and at least one stone golem.
  12. Lakofka promised to provide a history of Asmogorgon at a later date; it's not clear if that history ever came to be.
  13. It's not clear if the teleporter existed there when the place was part of the original Bone Hill Campaign or if it came into being only after the transformation to Voxbonder.
  14. There was a similar teleporter under temples or castles in each of the following locales: Kroten, Lo Reltarma (capital of Lendore Isles), the aforementioned Grellton/Dwarfhjaven, and a place called Manville--which is named for Manticores, so careful there.
  15. Though in dire need of a change, there is no indication that Manville was renamed by either the Nystul crew or TSR.



Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Garrottenford Map

Reader Ethan has compiled the two vicinity maps from L1 and L2 into one single map; something I've wanted to do forever but, thankfully, now I don't have to. Go here to check it out.  Nice work Ethan!

Monday, November 7, 2016

Restenford and the Assassins Knot

It's taken me almost 6 years to get to the topic that inspired this bloggertation in the first place: the link between L1 Secret of Bone Hill and it's follow up L2 Assassin's Knot. Or, more specifically, how did the Lakofka's vision for L2 change between the writing of L1 and the final form of Assassin's Knot.

Garrotten: We're a suspicious lot.
For those out of the know, L2 starts off the day after Baron Grellus of Restenford has been murdered. Pelltar calls upon the PCs to run the investigation because he's too high profile of a character to be snooping around on his own. Plus he claims not to be interested in politics, even though we all know that he's been pulling the strings of Restenford for years now.


He may be too high profile to conduct the full investigation, but that doesn't stop from inspecting the crime scene. And fortunately he's discovered three clues, each of which implicates, he believes, a separate person who was seen in Restenford on the night of the crime. Each of these suspects is a resident of the egregiously named town of Garrotten, a day's travel to the south. A search of the inns and brothels of Resty that morning turned up none of these gentlemen; clearly they've fled back to G-town one step ahead of the law. The case is ironclad, right?

Once the PCs travel down the coast to idyllic Garrotten, a cursory investigation will quickly reveal that--despite the implausible fact that none of the three suspects has an alibi for the day before--each is a prominent, respected member of the community, none of them has even the slightest motive to want the Baron dead, nor does any of them have the means to sneak into a castle and murder a dude who, despite being an incompetent ruler, is still a pretty tough fighter. But by implicating these three, the assassin has brought the focus of the investigation squarely on G-town which is problematic for a few reasons:
  1. The assassin's guild responsible for Grellus's murder is located in Garrotten; hence the name. Have you ever heard the expression don't shit where you eat? By extension, you should also not shit somewhere else and then intentionally leave a shit-stained trail of shit-scented footprints back to your dining room table.  Especially when...
  2. The baron's murderer, besides being a professional assassin and CEO of the Garrotten guild, has a day job working as an advisor to Arrness, Lord Mayor of the town, who is hoping to capitalize on the plot by filling the power vacuum created by the Baron's death. How pleased can she be that now she has to deal with a team of investigators at her doorstep just as she is trying to set her putsch in motion? Especially when...
  3. If the guild was looking for a scapegoat, they had the perfect patsy in the form of Qualton the Abbot, who, besides being thoroughly unstable--which they certainly must have learned when they vetted him as a client--is actually guilty of the crime since he hired the assassin in the first place! Frame him for his own misdeeds and let his psychosis shine through during the trial and your work is done for you; no one bothers casting a glance Garrotten-ward, despite its name.

For those who don't know, here's the lowdown on the murder plot as written in L2 Assassin's Knot: the deranged abbot Qualton, suffering from psychosis induced by a psionic attack--how many D&D modules ever incorporated Psionics into the narrative?-- thinks that if he kills off the baron and marries his daughter, he'll get to be the replacement baron and move into Grellus's stylish castle.  So he contacts the assassins down in Garrotten. But since the Lord Mayor of Garrotten, who is actually a lady named Arness, is in bed with the assassin's guild--possibly literally?--she decides to use Qualton's plot to her own advantage. Ultimately, depending on the success of the PC's investigatory efforts, the assassins will kill off the Baron's wife and daughter and finally Qualton as well, leaving the Baron's seat empty for Arness to occupy.

But what really intrigues me is that evidence in the write-up in L1 indicates that the sequel was supposed to be set in Restenford itself, not in far flung G-town. A few clues exist that might give us an idea of Lakofka's original intent for the follow up module:
  1. Qualton, Abbot of Phaulkon, having lost his marbles because of a psionic attack, is intent on marrying the Baron's daughter in order to take over the Barony. In his deranged state he sees no flaw in this plan.
  2. In addition to his other real estate in town, Pelltar has a lease on the tower in the Baron's castle. There is specific language in the terms of the lease that allow him access to the tower even in the event of the Baron's death. Obviously this was meant to allow the action of L2 to seep into the castle, but what kind of landlord signs a lease with that kind of language in it?
  3. The dude in the bait shop is actually a spy for the Duke of Kroten.
In L1, it seems obvious that it was Lakofka's original vision that the PCs were supposed to be skulking about in Restenford looking for a killer, not wandering down to Garrotten. At least not right away. Perhaps the the bait dealer was intended to be a red herring to distract them from the case. Or else the Duke of Kroten had some beef with Grellus, and his spy was gathering intell to prepare for the hit.Or maybe he was the point of contact for the assassin's guild.

The bit about Pelltar's tower at the Baron's castle seems to indicate that the plan was to have someone in power right away; someone who would not want Pelltar to be seeking justice for the baron's murder. This implies that maybe Pelltar has to surreptitiously hire the PCs to investigate the crime. Which would make sense if Qualton did manage to take over the Barony; obviously it would be in his best interest to obstruct the investigation at every turn.

Or perhaps Fairwind, the Baroness, was in on the hit, having been humiliated by the milquetoast Grellus's continued incompetence. That actually makes more sense from a quick transition of power stance, since Abbot Qualton's insane plot was never going to see him on the throne. But judging by her "haughty" ways and lawful neutral alignment, it seems more likely that she just wants to put as much distance as possible between herself and this backwater burg full of rabble rather than sully her footwear on the streets of Resty ever again.

My suspicion is that TSR decided that they didn't want to spread the adventure out over two separate publications which would have required aspiring DMs who bought L2 to then go out and acquire L1 in order to be able to run the thing. Admittedly, I woulda' been pretty freakin' annoyed if I'd had to do that back when I ran L2 in the 80s. Remember, in the pre-internet days you could only buy what your local supplier put on the shelves, so if they didn't have L1, you couldn't just go track it down on AbeBooks or wherever. So, in order to make L2 a self-contained module, they moved the action down the coast and left Restenford in the dust. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Rumors of Restenford: Flaming Hooves


In fantasy, as in reality, unsubstantiated rumors are often excellent sources of inspiration, and L1 takes full advantage of this with its rather extensive rumor table that provides information about the setting but also loads of red herrings and as-yet-undeveloped adventure hook.  Here is perhaps my favorite inspiring rumor on the list:
"One night I was coming through Kelman Pass when I saw a woman on horseback ride by and cross into the Dead Forest.  Her horse's hooves were on fire."
This rumor is interesting for being, well, pretty dang intriguing: who is the woman on horseback?  What's she doing in the pass at midnight?  Where'd she get that badass horse?

Watch your toes, lady.
Furthermore, the illustration on the copyright/title page of the module depicts a barefoot young woman--who is perhaps missing a few toes from her left foot--riding a flame-hoofed horse and wearing a fur lined metal skullcap.  This is clearly an illustration of the aforementioned "rumor." Pretty cool, right?

Couple this with the fact that the rumor is in italics, so we know that it's a crock.  This is extra significant in that, since this might be the one image from the body of the module that the players are most likely to actually see, if they also hear the rumor about this babe, they are that much more likely to believe it to be true under the logic that they wouldn't publish a picture of a fake rumor would they?  It's a fantastic red herring.

Further-furthermore, rather than starting off with "Old Man Codger once saw ..." or "Legend has it ..." this rumor is told in the first person; this is an eyewitness account.  That is to say, whoever tells you this is not merely passing on hearsay but is intentionally lying to you.  If you're talking to a 9-year-old kid, or an anonymous drunkard in the tavern then, fine, they're just trying to impress you or amuse themselves, no harm done.  But if you abide by the Lakofkian stipulation that only Characters of Level are in possession of knowledge from the Rumor Table, then it may very well be Peltar or the Baron laying this load of crap at your feet.  In which case, rather than offering insight into the adventure setting, the rumor is telling you something about the person you're talking to.  If Almax the Druid is feeding you this rumor then maybe he has a sense of humor--he's willing to pull one over on an unsuspecting adventurer.  Or maybe he doesn't care for the adventurers and is deviously sending the party off on a goose chase in the woods.  And since the person telling you this is determined randomly, the Rumor Table suddenly becomes a sort of Random NPC Personality Generator

This could be further evidence of the genius of Lakofka, but given the prominently placed illustration of Hottie the 3-toed Cossack,  I like to wonder if this rumor was initially meant to be true but the associated encounter was cut from the module for space considerations or some such. In an ideal world, Lakofka would have released L3 Nightmare of Kelman Pass some time in 1982.  And also in that ideal world L2 Assassins Knot would have been based in Restenford instead of that ridiculously-named town to the south, but that's the matter of another post.


   

Friday, April 12, 2013

Maps of Restenford

Today's post is a bit of a departure from the norm here.  Typically, the bibliography of any of my posts is limited to a single tome: Lakofka's L1 Secret of Bone Hill.  Today, I'm doing a study of comparative mapology, and for that I'm looking to the internet.  What follow are a bunch of maps of Restenford from varying sources over the ages.

We start with the original map of the V. of R.:

Map 1: from the published module
It's your basic, no frills map.  A spider's web of dark streets, caught in which are several numbered squares and some barbecue-flavored potato chips.  Also noteworthy: a river, two bridges, but no ford.  A few contours are included; only enough to show that the druid's compound, the abbey of Phaulkon, and the Barons wretched abode are slightly less likely than the rest of the town to be swept away in the next tsunami.  Also, the south bank of the Restin is defended by a palisade while the north bank is not; presumably danger comes from the south.

Greyhawk meets Harn: Map of Restenford:

Map 2: courtesy of old.denw.ru

This map offers a nicely rendered--if a bit plain--landscape surrounding the empty boxes that represent the edifices of Restenford.  A fairly straight interpretation of the town and its environs, it does add fields and trees and some riparian touches that make for a pleasing map. Also, it's de-numbered and un-hexed, so it works perfectly as a player's map.  The website has a hash of English and--presumably--Russian text that is a bit intimidating to a monoglot like me.

Now an offering from this sweet French site:
Map 3: Baronmundus.com
Again, it's a fairly literal translation of the original, but with color and those rendered roofs so that those squares look like houses. Magnifique!




Map 3: Are you serious?
"I thought the map of Restenford was crap. So I fixed it." --R. S. Conley, Batintheattic.blogspot.com

I'll give Mr. Conley credit; it takes guts to call someone else's work "crap" and then offer up as improvement a rendering that, well, to call it half-assed would be understating the case.  The cartographer's uncritical eye for his own work is refreshing in its own way.

Shoddy crayonmanship aside, Conley's map is actually not half bad.  His use of contours conveys a decent sense of the topography--but watch out for the cross slope on the road--and the river is actually pretty well rendered; one can almost imagine spending the afternoon fishing from its banks or throwing rocks into the current.  Also, the inclusion of a couple of wells and a millpond (#15) adds a nice touch of pragmatism--though one wonders why there is a second mill (also #15) that is nowhere near water.  A windmill perhaps?  Also, if those hatchmarks around the castle and other defensive installations are intended to illustrate some sort of earthworks, the contours fail to support this notion. Maybe they're stakes.

Make no mistake, this is not Restenford; it's Bernost, though Mr. Conley informs us that you can use the Restenford key from L1.  Despite a similar orientation, the river runs in the opposite direction of the Restin, there are no piers jutting out into the flow, and the burned out guard station (#32) has moved outside the city walls; which is actually a fairly logical move.  Strangely, though Bernost seems to be well removed from the coast, the gnome's light house (#36) still sends out its guiding beacon to lost mariners.

And our last map of the day is actually a birds-eye view from Dungeon Magazine #71, November 1998.

It was part of an adventure called "Priestly Secrets" that involves some goings-on at the old Abbey of Phaulkon several years after the action of L2 Assassin's Knot.  It's a slightly simplified version of Restenford with some extraneous buildings removed, which is fine by me.  It does a great job of showing space and scale and the topography of the region and takes liberties to make the town look more human than the ham-handed building layouts of the original module would have you believe.  Also, that portion of the village on the north bank is now enclosed by a palisade and the Baron's castle has been improved a bit--the new Baron seems to have a better handle on administering the physical plant than his (or her) predecessor had.  Plus, there's that odd seawall thing off the shore; what's that all about?  A tsunami early warning structure?  The gnome's new lighthouse?  I don't recall any mention of this structure in the adventure, but it's such a quirky feature that it seems appropriate, in the grand Lakofkian tradition, that it is left unexplained.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Mob Justice in Restenford

From the Rumor Table:
"The warehouse guard dropped dead a few days ago during a scuffle in the inn with two half orcs, but I saw him that very night and the half-orcs were found burned to death at the edge of town."

It's not italicized, so we know that this gruesome tale of lynching in Lendore is a true story.

Consider the phrasing: the half orcs didn't kill the warehouse guard; he "dropped dead during a scuffle" as if the ol' ticker gave out mid-brawl.  And then he shows up later that night apparently no longer dead, but the half orcs have already been put to the torch.  Can it be any more obvious that the brawl was staged to present the thinnest veneer of justification for a racially motivated lynching?

And again with the phrasing: the half orcs were "found" burned to death; as if their immolation occurred without the general knowledge of the villagers.  Even though their corpses were right at the edge of a very small town; the kind of place where half-orc-burnings are not likely to go unnoticed--if not downright celebrated.  Despite the tone of mystery this rumor seems to impart, the villagers were more than likely complicit in the offing of the half orcs. And yet because of the tone of mystery, the villagers--or at least some of them--are likely ashamed of it, or at least aware that others might disapprove, and so have tried to distance themselves from the event.

Furthermore, this rumor is also interesting in that its purpose is solely to provide flavor for the town.  There is no adventure related to the half orc lynching, unless one chooses to link the half orcs to the band of thieves* camped out on Bald Hill.  It would seem that the story is meant to let us know that there is a deep vein of intolerance in this sleepy, little chaotic-neutral village by the sea.


The only perpetrator of the event that we know of is the warehouse guard, so let's get a better look at him.  From his description at location 26:
"The "old man" who poses as a mere caretaker is really a grizzled but tough fighter named Welcar"
It's interesting that the guard merely "poses" as a caretaker.  What is he in reality if not a caretaker?  Presumably, M. Lakofka meant that Welcar's combat aptitude made him something more than a mere caretaker--he's a 4th level fighter--though it hardly seems an unusual career choice for a retired fighter to take up a gig as a security guard.
That's Wellcar releasing the hounds.

Welcar also has two guard dogs that he takes to work, each having a collar which "nullifies sleep spells for mammals."  These collars are described as being given by his employer, who just happens to be the ever-lovin' Peltar; further evidence of the sorcerer's trust issues/paranoia.

But more to the point; does Welcar's involvement in the conspiracy to eliminate the half orcs somehow imply Peltar's complicity with the action?  Perhaps not.  But look at it this way: this is a tiny town, Peltar is going to find out that his security guard played a significant hand in the lynching of some half orcs, yet the security guard acts with impunity.  Peltar is nominally the second in command in town--though, in actuality, his authority is supreme.  If he felt that the security guard acted out of line, his position would require that he take action against his guard either directly or by advising his sock puppet Grellus to do so.  Yet he does nothing.

On the other hand, they're half-orcs.  Had they been true orcs, the militia would have been in full muster by the time the dudes got within a stone's throw of the town wall.  That half-orcs were allowed to enter Restenford, much less patronize an inn, might actually speak to the openness of the community.

But still, faking your death to execute someone under false pretenses? That's pretty devious. The message: Watch your step, outsider, or you're next.

* Oddly, this gang is repeatedly referred to as a "band of thieves" when, in fact, they are orcs.  Furthermore, the activities they engage in--ambushing the unwary--fall more within the realm of banditry than thievery.  In D&D, where terms like thief and bandit and brigand are all very much codified, it's a strange choice of words. Lakofkaesque, even.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Knights of Bone Hill

From page 7 of L1:
"The hill itself is rocky, and boulders large enough to conceal a mounted knight occur frequently."
Any DM who runs L1 and fails to have at least one mounted knight lurking behind one of these boulders loses 25 points.