Thursday, December 22, 2011

Baron Grellus: Denizens of Restenford Part II

Getting back to the analysis of the personae of Restenford which began with Pelltar the Sorcerer, today I'd like to discuss the ill-fated Grellus, Baron of Restenford.  We know from the sequel that he is not long for this world--he will meet his end at the hands of an assassin in L2 Assassins Knot--but what do we know about Grellus the man?

While Pelltar's dossier is not particularly in depth in terms of providing a description of his character, it's downright verbose compared with that of Grellus.  The Baron's official write-up divulges only the following information: he is a chaotic good seventh level fighter, he's 44 years old, 6'2", 210 pounds, and has a beard and blue eyes, and his stats (S:18/53, I:13, W:13, D:15, C:16, Ch:12) and magic  armaments including a Sword +1 "Flametongue" and a ring of shocking grasp.  Nothing is said about his past, the history of his barony, or even his relationship with his family, counselors, or subjects.  At least with Pelltar we know that his 4 apprentices are fiercely loyal to him.  Of the Baron's household, only the captain of the guard is described as "a loyal retainer" though to whom he is loyal no indication is made.

Though we do learn that the Baron is married to the baroness Fairwind, with whom he has a teenaged daughter named Andrella, nothing is made explicit about their relationships.  We know from the Rumor Table that Andrella is rather anxious to become the next Baron of Restenford which speaks more to her ambition than the nature of the Baron himself, but it tends to imply that she sees him as more of an obstacle to her own goals than as a revered parent.  We already discussed that there is probably a fair amount of tension between the Baron and Pelltar over the latter's occupation of the castle's tower, resulting in a bit of an inferiority complex in the Baron, and that Almax the Druid may also have something on the Baron in terms of political clout in the community--much as a longstanding parish priest might hold greater sway over the hearts and minds of a small community than its elected leader.  Now we learn that even his daughter might be lacking in respect for the dude.  It seems hard to avoid the conclusion that the Baron is not a highly regarded leader.

What has he done to earn such a low opinion?  Is he a capricious leader?  Since he seems to hold such little sway over his subjects, he hardly seems in a position to exercise the sort of tyrannical powers that might make him unpopular.  Has he been an absentee liege lord, spending his time off fighting wars?  If he were an effective military leader it seems highly unlikely that he would stand for Pelltar's occupation of the tower.  Obviously the people--including Grellus--hold Pelltar's sorcery in greater esteem than Grellus's sword.

Perhaps the all-knowing Rumor Table can help us further understand what makes Baron Grellus such a weak ruler.  As always italicized statements are false, according to the Author.
  1. he is land poor and nearly penniless,
  2. he has an unguarded fortune hidden under the castle
  3. he has a statue that turns into a man,
  4. the Baron is chaotic evil
  5. there are evil people in town despite what he has to say on the matter. 
Rumor 1 regarding his impoverished financial state reveals that perhaps he doesn't spend much money on the upkeep of his realm.  Since the statement about his poverty is italicized, we can conclude that the baron does have money and likely draws a fair revenue from the lands of his Barony.  But he's not spending it on things that might impress the peasantry like, say, replacing the palisade with a more defensible stone wall, building a grander castle, or even funding an effort to eliminate the undead and giant rats that spew out of the old guard station in town.  Since he's not doing any of that, yet we know he's got the cash hidden under his castle--where it's guarded by his friend Djinn Balooshi--we can assume he's lacking in the administrative skills and political instincts necessary to wield his treasury as an instrument of governance.  He fails to see that the power of money is not just in the hoarding of it but in investing it.

Furthermore, the second rumor--which indicates that his fortune is "unguarded"--implies that the general population feels that stealing his fortune might be an option to consider.  Well, if the baron's not doing anything with it, why not?  Again, respect for his authority must be dangerously low if the populace is openly discussing the possibility of robbing their own liege lord.  Is it their chaotic alignment talking?  Sort of makes Pelltar's over-the-top security measures seem more justified.

The statue-man rumor is a reference to the Stone Guardians in the lower level of the Baron's castle.  Stone Guardians are a new species of golem and their presence in the rumor list is a warning that, when you do try to steal the Baron's treasure you should be wary of any statues.  But again, we're talking about raiding the Baron's castle here; the man can't get any love.

In rumor 5, Grellus's purported belief that there are no evil people in town reveals that the citizenry feels that the Baron is out of touch with the goings-on of Restenford and that he cannot be trusted to keep them safe from evil.  Add to this the perception that the Baron himself might be evil in rumor 4 and this might explain why Pelltar and the Druid are held in higher regard than the Baron.  In reality, there are only 1.5 evil people in town--Zardahl the Trickster, bait dealer/spy for the Duke of Kroten, and the schizophrenic Abbot Qualton--but only when he is in his deranged state--so who, really, is out of touch?   But again, the perception is that the Baron is either unwilling or unable to fight evil within the town. 

Another useful source of information on castle denizens is the Garrison Location Chart.  Let's see what it reveals about the baron:

He is likely to be found in the following locations (italicized comments are my own):
  • Pelltar's tower--3%/ 1% at night; as mentioned, he's likely either seeking counsel from Pelltar--or trying to eliminate him.
  • Throne room--along with, quite literally, everyone else in the castle.
  • Fairwind's quarters--40% day/90% night; well, they are man and wife.
  • His own quarters--95% day/98% night; who doesn't like their alone time?
  • Lower Level--25% day/6% night, chatting with Djinn Balooshi?  Counting his treasure?  In the dungeons for some S&M play with Fairwind--who is, according to the Chart, the only other person in the castle who ever goes down to the lower level.
  • Servant's Room (20c) 1-2--nighttime only. Or perhaps when Fairwind is not in the mood the Baron seeks the comfort of a plump, young scullion? Nobility being no less resistant to carnal desire than anyone else, this is hardly unusual; but would Lakofka make the affair so explicit?  I fear this may be a typo. 
Down in the lower level, he has stashed a Ring of Djinni Summoning which summons his "good friend" Djinn Balooshi whom he summons only to renew the permanent illusion in the treasure room.  [Given the vintage of this module--1981--it seems highly likely that the phonetic similarity of the djinn's name to that of a certain popular though soon-to-be-deceased comedian of the era is not coincidental. --Ed.]  Therefore, Djinn Balooshi is the only other person who knows the location of the Baron's treasure--not even the Baroness knows where it is.  So we know that the Baron has some serious issues with money: he is afraid to spend it, and insists on handling every coin of his taxes personally.  The only person he does seem to trust is a resident of the elemental plane of air.  And can you get a much thinner pretense for calling on someone's company than renewing a permanent illusion?  The Baron is clearly a lonely man.

More than likely he was once a knight of some significance who served the Duke (or a higher authority) well and was rewarded with/condemned to a barony on the fringe of society.  But it seems his skills in administering a barony do not live up to his prowess on the battlefield; his realm is a chaotic land filled with dangerous criminals and monsters, his subjects are disloyal and openly discuss treason, yet he seems to take no action to address any of these matters.  His subjects rightfully seek authority in others; we have reason to suspect that the sorcerer and druid are held in higher regard than the ineffectual Baron. Also, his inaction in regard to the numerous rumors of violence in the area indicate that perhaps even his once-vaunted military achievements are beyond his current capacity; he has lost his nerve.  Despite his impressive frame, he is an impotent shell of a man.  Knowing that he lacks the respect of his subjects and even of his daughter--who, though only a teenager, is widely rumored to have ambitions for his throne even whilst still he sits on it--he holds desperately to the one truly powerful thing in his possession: the treasury.  

Monday, December 12, 2011

Mysteries of Bone Hill

Some light has been made about the absence of any sort of secret on Bone Hill, despite the title of the module.  Indeed, there is no one up there actively trying to conceal anything worth note--such as is the case with the smugglers in the U1 Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh--but there are certainly some rather strange goings on that, if not secrets, at least qualify as mysteries. Let's have a look at what's going on up on that remote precipice.

Unlike the description of the town of Restenford and its inhabitants, the castle at Bone Hill is actually provided a fair amount of history.  Not in the traditional manner of a keyed block of text mind you, but, rather, the information is doled out piecemeal in the room to room descriptions.  It's a much more intriguing method of exposition in my opinion, and really this is the genius of this module.  From a variety of sources, we can piece together this chronology of the Bone Hill edifice:
  1. Men and elves defeat evil humanoids in the area and build a castle to protect the lands against future pests.  The throne room of said castle is adorned with a fresco illustrating these events.
  2. Generations later, the lord of the castle falls prey to his own powerlust and unleashes the degradations of tyranny on the goodlings in the vicinity.  In league with an unknown necromancer, he sets himself up as a wraith to rule over his castle after his mortal form has expired.
  3. With the rise of the wraithlord, the castle is abandoned by the living and, over many centuries of neglect, falls into a cursed ruin.
  4. A powerful and benevolent wizard attempts to cleanse the ruins of their evil presence, but is defeated and his soul is imprisoned in his own corporeal remains for the next several centuries.
  5. Long after any of these story lines have fallen from local memory, a band of bugbears led by an evil magic user takes up residence in the castle.
  6. Your adventuring party wanders onto the scene.

Tidy enough, right?  Except it ignores the archaeological evidence regarding the Battle of Bone Hill.  Forensic investigation of the castle grounds reveals that there has been a battle between elves, men and bugbears (and at least one hill giant) in the recent past.  Evidence suggests that the elves and men were defending the castle against the humanoids and that the humanoids were well organized, using catapults and a siege tower to aid their conquest.  Also, judging by the radius of scorched earth in 2 areas around the castle, at least one 8th level magic user was on hand to cast fireballs into the action. [Edit: You're probably scratching your head about this one.  For some reason, at the time that I wrote this piece, I had gotten it in my head that the diameter of fireball is 1"/level of spell caster.  It's not.  As you already know, it's a static 40' radius sphere regardless of caster level.]  As Telvar--the resident overlord of the bugbears--is only a magician (6th level MU), and seeing as one of the fireballs was clearly used to destroy the siege tower before it reached the castle walls, it is apparent that the 8th level MU was probably defending the castle, not attacking it.  But it still conceivable that Telvar's tyrannical presence might have provided the disciplinary impetus that cajoled the usually slovenly bugbears into such a sustained, disciplined assault.  If so, then it can be assumed that the attack probably happened within the lifespan of a human.

As the skeletal remains of several of the combatants are still intact on the castle grounds, we know that the battle could not have taken place too long ago.  Likewise, the blast area of the fireball is still identifiable as such--it hasn't been washed away by the erosive forces of wind or precipitation or covered up with new vegetation--and the siege equipment likewise has not deteriorated beyond recognition.  Based on the prevalence of deciduous trees in the area (see Dweomer Forest) it is reasonable to assume that the climate of Lendore is fairly wet with warm--if not hot--and humid summers to aid in the decomposition of uncured wood that would have been used to build these siege engines.  So even if Telvar was not a party to this battle, it must have happened within the last few decades; long, long, long after the place had fallen into ruin. 

Therefore it can be assumed that at some point after the place had fallen into ruin it must have been re-occupied by elves and men, who then, somewhat recently, fell to an invasion of Bugbears.  Here's where the great mystery of Bone Hill arises.  If indeed the place was recently inhabited by a coalition of elves and men, why didn't they clear out the undead that haunt the dungeons?  Why didn't they free the tortured wizard? And wouldn't someone in Restenford be aware of such activity going on in the domain?  Sure, the yokels on the street might be ignorant of a castle of elves on a hill 30 miles away, but surely Pelltar or the Baron would have caught wind of such events.  Wouldn't the elves and men have sent an envoy to Restenford requesting aid against the siege of bugbears?
One more quirk in the chronology involves the small family of Spectators--a new species of Beholder-like critters created for this module--that inhabit a room in the dungeon.  We know from their write up that a spectator is "a guardian of places and treasures" and that they will guard said locale or item for a period of time "up to 101 years."  Summoning a Spectator requires at least 3 eyes of a real beholder and a Monster Summoning V spell, a 7th level spell, so we're talking about a 14th or higher level MU. Again, Telvar is clearly not our man, so who is the mage who wandered down to the dungeons and summoned not one but two spectators--who, incidentally, have had a child during their tour of duty--to protect a Libram of Gainful Conjuration; an item useful only to neutral Magic users?  Now tell me that is not a freakin' mystery.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Pelltar the Sorceror: Denizens of Restenford Part I

One of my favorite aspects of L1 The Secret of Bone Hill is how information is often disgorged without the taint of judgment or explanatory backstory to bog it down.  This is not always the case, but it's certainly so with Pelltar, Sorceror of Restenford.  His write-up (p. 24) divulges this about him: he's a lawful neutral 9th level magic-user--hence the sorcerer title--and is described as "very imperious and highly independent." Also, he has 3 indentured magic users who are, we are told, loyal to him.  Pretty basic stuff.  But this information starts to gain meaning when we take into consideration the context. Pelltar, for instance, is lawful neutral in a town inhabited primarily by chaotic neutrals.  Even his purported boss--the Baron--is chaotic good.  How, then, does he cope with all these diametrically opposed rapscallions?  Does he sacrifice his principals to fit in?  Knowing that he is "very imperious and highly independent" would indicate otherwise.  Does he shut himself in, a veritable Omega Man holding at bay the teeming masses of madness outside his walls?  The exorbitant measures he takes to protect his properties, of which there are several, might indicate that this is more in line.

Pelltar not only owns a house, which he shares with his 3 underlings, he also owns one of the three warehouses in town and "has a deed to the tower" at the Baron's castle and "an agreement of entry even if the Baron were to die," a little foreshadowing for Lakofka's sequel module L2 Assassin's Knot.   An agreement of entry indeed; the tower is so heavily locked, trapped, and guarded (by skeletons of Pelltar's creation--what kind of man animates the dead for his own purposes?)  that Pelltar is the only person who can access it.  I can't imagine a scenario in which the Baron is not rankled a bit by this arrangement; the highest point and most defensible structure in his castle is off limits to his own garrison!  The tower--where Pelltar is able to quite literally look down on his supposed liege-lord--is a potent symbol indeed of who truly wields the phallus of Restenford.

There is little mention in this module of the actual relationship between Pelltar and Baron Grellus, we must insinuate everything from a few tidbits.  For instance we know that their is a chair for "the Sorcerer" on the second tier of the throne room, just below that of the Baron and his wife.  I think it safe to assume that the sorcerer in question is Pelltar and that he acts in an official capacity as an adviser to the Baron.  Also, the "Garrison Location Chart" indicates that the Baron and Pelltar are the only 2 persons who are likely to occupy the tower; there is a 3% chance during the day and 1% chance at night that the Baron can be found in the tower; presumably seeking Pelltar's council.

Another reference to the sorcerer and the baron can be found under the Druid's Home description on pg. 26:
"Almax [the druid] is second only to Pelltar in authority, after the Baron."
The odd phrasing--wouldn't it be more economical to say that the druid is third in authority if one meant to say so?--might insinuate that the Baron has less authority over his subjects than his title would indicate, ranking perhaps after not only the sorcerer but also the druid.  

An additional source of information is the ever-cryptic rumor list (italicized rumors are false):

"The sorceror has a number of magic users working for him"
"The magic user who calls himself a sorceror is only an enchanter"
We already know about his underlings; this rumor is likely included as a lead to help PC parties to find adventuring help.  This module along with T1 Village of Hommlet commit a fair amount of text to supplying NPCs who might be willing to join an adventuring party, which speaks to the way the game was likely played by the creators.  But the second rumor--a petty attempt to diminish Pelltar's status by asserting that he is a mere 7th level magic user--indicates a certain amount of ill-will towards the sorcerer.  Was the rumor started by someone in the Baron's household?  One of the sorcerer's so-called loyal employees?  Whether this sentiment is prevalent throughout the community or the opinion of only a few, it seems evident that someone feels that the man needs to be taken down a notch or two.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Crystals and Curses: What's Faldelac up to Today?

I see you Faldelac!
Faldelac, aforementioned High Priest at the Church of the Big Charade, has the great (mis)pleasure of possessing an Amulet of Inescapable Location.   I'd never heard of this particular magical item before but there it is on page 137 of the DMG: it's a cursed item that makes the wearer significantly easier to track via crystal balls and other scrying type magic.  On top of this, it poses as an implement that is supposed to prevent exactly these sorts of activities. Now, in 100% of the D&D I've ever played such a potent artifact of diabolic magic would have been... completely and utterly insignificant.  Seriously, it would have been on par with a cursed silver piece that was really only worth 1/21 of a gold piece.  Given that Faldelac is such a remote character in this module, I would have  dismissed the amulet's presence as nothing more than a bizarre curiosity in this module--except that another Prominent Denizen of Lendore actually has a crystal ball: everyone's favorite sorcerer Pelltar is in possession of a Crystal Ball of Clairaudience.  All of a sudden the ol' cursed amulet becomes a loaded Chekhov's gun

So what is the connection between Pelltar and Faldelac?  Maybe poor, lonely Pelltar is keeping track of Faldie's actions to satisfy his voyeuristic urges.  And perhaps, then, Faldelac's occasional trips into Restenford are in attempt to get Pelltar out of his boudoir.  Or are they requests to get Pelltar to remove the cursed item?  A response to orders given by Pelltar via crystal ball?  Do crystal balls even work that way?  No, sadly, they don't.   A Crystal Ball of Telepathy might achieve that end, but Pelltar's crystal ball allows him only to see and hear what's going on.  The only meddling it allows is the casting of certain detection-type spells.  But still, if Pelltar has reason to keep an eye (and ear) on Faldelac, whatever backstory exists between them might help to explain why Faldelac and his secret cult of hotties live in an impregnable fake casino hidden deep in the woods.

This raises another point; is Faldelac even aware that someone, Pelltar or otherwise, is watching him?  According to the DMG description of Crystal Balls, spellcasters have a chance of detecting scrying equivalent to their percent chance to detect invisible creatures.  Faldelac, according to the Detection of Invisibility Table on page 60, as a 10th level cleric with a 14 Intelligence, would have a 15% chance of detecting scrying.   Not great, but if it happens frequently then he's probably picked up on it by now.  Does he realize, then, that his magic amulet is not doing its job; as mentioned above it gives the misleading impression that it prevents scrying. Is he aware that it is actually cursed?  Or does he just assume that it is just less effective than he hoped? In any event, this amulet presents a rather odd chink in the otherwise aloof defenses of the enigmatic character that is High Priest Faldelac. 

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Clergy of the Big Gamble

In two previous posts, I've discussed the environs and the behavior of the Church of the Big Gamble; now I'd like to discuss the actual inhabitants of this little cloister in the woods.

There are seven clerics on the roster at the Temple with Faldelac running the show as the high priest (10th level).  He shares quarters with the High Priestess (9th level) who is named Auburn though no mention is made as to whether they are man and wife or platonic roommates.  Five more clerics share the other room; all curates (4th level), one woman--Myla--the rest men; Posted, Quall, Yulla, and Tellmar.  Again, we don't know if the shared quarters imply anything about the relationship between any of the priests.  And since we know virtually nothing about the deity that these clerics worship--except that he/she is most certainly not a patron to gambling--we don't know if they have sworn a vow of chastity, run a free-love colony, or have been surgically neutered.

The first notable thing about this gang--other than they're non-gender segregated sleeping arrangements--is that they are, as a group, going to be able to kick your party's ass.  Five 4th level clerics alone would give most parties attempting this module a run for their money, but tack on two high priests and--assuming that the MC doesn't run the clerics as complete schmucks--you're toast.  A second point of interest: they all have very high charisma scores.  They average 16.4 Cha, with three (!) of them having Cha scores of 18.  Chief proselytizer Faldelac, with a charisma of 13, is actually the least appealing member of the flock. In his forties, he is also the oldest, and, at 5'-9" and 100 lbs, an emaciated little twerp.  This and other evidence in the module suggest that Lakofka used Charisma as a measure of physical beauty.  Why, then, are the clergy of the "Big Gamble" so damn foxy?

Though Lakofka states that "This temple is an important site for the party" he offers no reason why this might be so.  Though they're not evil, they aren't particularly helpful either.  Despite proclaiming that "The clerics are an excellent source of information about Bone Hill" the only information they have to offer is that "some undead are there but they do not know the types or numbers" which is far too vague to actually qualify as "information" at all.   They are "generous as long as the party does not try to use the place as a hostel" so have fun but get out before sun down.  The clergy might buy a magic item at a reduced rate if it's useful to them--fair enough--and they might, if they take a liking to your party, offer to sell you their clerical services at non-bargain prices.  Where, pray tell, is the generosity? 
Big Gamblers: Ruthless and sexy!

The whole write up ends with the following warning:

"This is the best the party can hope for in the way of aid on their adventures in the area. If they attack the place the DM must be ruthless!"
Lakofka seems to be saying that the importance of this site is not in its purported generosity--of which there is no evidence to support--but to let the party know that no one cares enough about them to give them a free lunch, or even a discounted one.  It's a very hard-hearted message, in direct contrast to the sort of graces that friendly parties of literature often enjoyed; think Bilbo and the dwarves at Beorn's house.   Why must the DM be ruthless?  Why are the priests so stingy with information and aid?  And why is the church so impregnable?

The only references to the Church in the Rumor list (page 3) are quite cryptic and do not provide anywhere near enough information for anyone to bother to seek the place out: 
31-33: "The cleric on the hill is an honorable man. Go to him for help." and
74-75 "I have seen a high priest come to town from time to time though I have not met him.  They say he has a church somewhere within a dozen or so miles of town."   
Clearly, there is no one else to whom these rumours might apply, but they aren't at all helpful in finding the guy.  In fact the "cleric on the hill" bit is downright misleading; given the number and size of hills in the vicinity--there are several hills rising to over a thousand feet (9.72 m) above sea level--if you were to look for a cleric on a hill in the Restenford vicinity, probably the last place you would look would be on a tiny knoll hidden deep in the low-lying Dweomer forest.  Wouldn't "the Cleric in the forest " be more useful?  There are several forests to look through, so the PCs job isn't really done for them, but if they really need an honorable cleric, at least they'll have something to go on.

The players are given almost no clues that the clergy exist and even less reason to care.  Given their secluded location it is extremely unlikely that the CotBG is going to come into play unless your players are really gung-ho about finding those apocryphal evil gnomes that supposedly haunt the Dweomer Forest.  And if the players do find this place, it will provide nothing more than a moment of comic relief, and some trivial financial gain/loss.  The DM is going to have to force the issue if he wants this temple to be part of the adventure but to what end?   Whatever intention Lakofka had for this encounter, if ran as written, the players are going to walk away confounded as to what just happened and wondering why the DM foisted such an unsatisfying encounter on them--unless they manage to bed the Big Gamble hotties or heist their sizable treasure trove.  

This whole encounter feels like a bizarro version of the respites that I used to include in my dungeons when I was a kid just starting out in the game; little havens hidden within a dungeon where some old, decrepit-seeming dude would hang out and offer restorative crumpets and sound advice but, despite his genial appearance, he was usually a wicked-bad-ass wizard who would toast the party in a heart beat if they acted up.  I suspect that Faldelac and his crew were inspired by a similar urge in Mr. Lakofka, but were somehow corrupted into the aloof bastards you see before you. 

Friday, February 25, 2011

Hospitality at The Church of the Big Gamble

As discussed previously, at the center of the Dweomer Forest is an isolated group of clerics who utilize their forest locale to conceal their presence, provide food, and elicit the assistance of the animal life.  Today I'd like to discuss their church a little more closely to figure out what goes on behind those ivory walls.

What do we know of the dome?  It is initially described as "the shape of an egg cut lengthwise about 40 feet tall and 60 feet in diameter" though later the dimensions change a bit to "40' x 60' x 18' high."   It has six "one-way" windows made of impenetrable glass-steel, so no looking--or breaking--in.  Its door is enchanted so as to require a dispel magic spell to remove the magical locking effect--Knock is ineffective against it.  This is especially significant when one considers that the recommended character levels for this module are 2-4 whilst Dispel Magic is a 3rd level spell; one needs a 5th level magic-user at least to cast a 3rd level spell.  And then you have to hope that he didn't waste his 3rd level spell allotment on fireball or lightning bolt or any number of other really cool 3rd level spells.  Once you do manage to dispel the locking enchantment, you still have the problem of opening the "solid stone" door, a feat which probably requires a few crow bars and a lot of sweat.   

So, finally, after burning a dispel magic spell and wrestling the "huge stone door" open you'd think that the clerics inside would be there waiting to greet you in some way--especially considering that the wildlife has alerted them to your presence long before you arrived at the doorstep.  But no, you walk into a large, unoccupied room with a dais in it.  If you step on the dais a bell rings which finally signals the inhabitants to come forth and show themselves, right?  Not quite; the residents of the egg-shaped edifice wait for 2-8 rounds (minutes) before the clerics finally enter the room.  If you were an adventurer exploring a domed temple in the middle of a forest, would you wait around for 2-8 minutes before kicking in the door to the next room to find out who (or what) has been summoned?

But alas, after all this waiting around the clerics finally roll out the red carpet.  They will ask the party to have a seat and get some gambling on, all the time chanting such hokey oaths as "oh God of Chance, may the dodecahedrons of fate come up naught-naught."  What follows is a little gambling tournament wherein everyone breaks up into small groups at separate tables and take turns rolling percentile dice (not dodecahedrons [12-siders] as their prayers indicated).  Whomever rolls highest at a table advances to roll dice with the winner from another table in a single-elimination tournament until a final winner is decided.  This game wouldn't go over too big at the tables of Vegas I imagine, but when you're deep in a trackless wilderness, it's probably more entertaining than yet another round of Kumbaya at the campfire.

Given that the church is hidden deep in the woods with no clear path to its doorway, its clergy make a rigorous effort to bend nature to their needs, and are extremely reluctant to engage with people--even those who take the time to dismantle their front door--their stated religious beliefs seem less than sincere.  Lendore being a land of Suel deities, it is obvious that they are playing themselves off as disciples of Norebo though he was not officially defined by TSR when L1 was released.  But just as clearly they are not running a casino as Norebo's temples purportedly function.  The misnamed dice, the simplistic game of chance, and the mishmash of fate, chance, and luck prayers; it takes only a modicum of analysis to conclude that this ritual is a sham.  The gambling is in all probability a ruse meant to confuse and perhaps even mock pesky visitors to this hermitage.  Faldelac and his staff most likely devote their true worship to a god that values the solitude and the freedom of thought that their isolated locale brooks rather than the visceral rush of gambling.  Indeed, the deity actually worshiped by the clerics of the "Big Gamble" most likely feels disdain toward Norebo and his vacuous followers.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Dweomer Forest and its Denizens

We know this about the Dweomer Forest: it is a place devoid of any overt sign of humanity--except at its very center where lies atop a small, deforested knoll, a dome-like structure occupied by a group of clerics who seem to practice gambling as a form of worship.  Though the name of their professed deity/religion is never made explicit, the description of their sylvan environs may give us some insight into the nature of their religious beliefs.

First off, their impervious dome is built atop a knoll that is climate-controlled so that the temperature never drops below 60 degrees F.  Not surprisingly, no trees from the neighboring forest grow on the knoll; the rest of the forest is made up primarily of temperate hardwoods--trees that generally need a good cold winter to prosper.  Instead, their little hill is covered with a low growing shrub with small green flowers and berries that make poor eating but when fermented make a palatable intoxicant.  Generally, plants with small, green flowers--i.e. not visually appealing to insects and birds--spread their pollen via wind.  The shrubs, like the priests, are a bit anti-social.

To this fact we may add that the forest is described as trackless except for a few paths that appear "natural."   Presumably the priests of the holy dome must leave the forest occasionally to secure items unattainable in their woodland compound--a notion which is apparently confirmed by the true (non-italicized) rumor that a "high priest" with "a church somewhere within a dozen miles or so comes to town "from time to time."  Since we know that Faldelac, head honcho at the church of the Big Gamble, is indeed a high priest and that no others are described in the environs of Restenford it seems safe to assume that Faldelac does, on occasion, roam his skinny ass over to Resty.  Yet he makes sure to cover his trail; most likely using a different route each time he travels abroad so as not to leave a noticeable, non-natural seeming path.

As I mentioned, the forest is predominantly made up of temperate hardwoods--oak, beech, elm, and ash.  Yet within a half mile radius of the hill top dome this community changes to walnut, maple, apple, and cherry trees.  Sounds like a recipe for a fruit crisp, right?  Obviously there's some forest stewardship going on here; whether it be the clerics of the "church" or the hand of their deity directly that directs the trees nearest their citadel to provide foodstuffs in addition to their other treelike duties.    

There is also some discussion of the fauna of the forest.  Numerous small mammals and birds can be seen throughout the forest, though they are especially dense in the "inner circle" of the forest, where the wildlife have apparently lost their fear of humanity and will very likely approach human interlopers expecting a handout of free food. We also know that the wildlife will have alerted the residents of the church to the presence of any intruders to their forest sanctuary.

What does all this add up to?  We have a small community of clerics surrounded by a forest wherein both flora and fauna have been carefully managed to provide service to the inhabitatnts of the church.  Yet this is no "one with nature" bunch of tree huggers; indeed their abode squats atop a hill rising above the forest floor like an old fashioned motte and baily type castle.  The hill is, through magical or divine means, exempted from the worst weather conditions of the area, and has been carefully managed to create a monoculture of an unpleasant berry whose only value is to provide an intoxicating beverage.  It seems safe, then, to assume that the church holds a patronistic attitude toward its "natural" surroundings.  The trees are used at first to conceal the presence of the church and then to provide foodstuffs; the animal life is bribed into docility to provide an early warning system, and yet the priests choose for their quarters to quite literally rise above their forest environs and completely eliminate all contact with their immediate surroundings. 

And the big question looms, what the hell does any of this have to do with gambling?