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?