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

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:
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,

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.