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.