Friday, 21 March 2014

D&D Insider Expiration

I received the following email this week.

The subscription detailed below will be expiring 6 days from today. Since you were one of the first subscribers, we wanted to invite you to renew your service before it runs out.

Product Name                        Subscription Date  Expiration Date  Amount
1 Year Dungeons and Dragon          03/25/2012           03/25/2014           $71.40

To renew your subscription, you'll want to wait 6 days until your subscription is completely finished. You'll have a few days grace period before your access to D&D Insider officially goes away. At that time, please place a new subscription order at

Please note -- if you want to use Manual Renewal again, you will need to notify Customer Service in order to turn off Auto-Renew on your new purchase. We apologize for this inconvenience and are working on streamlining this process.

We hope that you've enjoyed D&D Insider and we look forward to your continued participation!

Wizards of the Coast, Inc.

I have to admit - it was nice that they "remembered" me from the start of the subscription service.  Though, that fact didn't really seem to change much else.

I had already written to WotC, as well as expressed elsewhere (eg here), but felt that the email needed a response. So, I wrote:

Dear WotC Insider folk,
Thank you for your email alerting me to the ending of my (long term) subscription, and for remembering that I was amongst the first subscribers to the service. 
Unfortunately, I do not wish to continue the service at this point in time.  Sadly, as WotC has moved away from the 4th Edition of DnD, and towards the 5th Edition (currently referred to as "DnD Next"), there has been a significant drop in products and usefulness of the subscription service, including:
  • No new Dragon or Dungeon magazines
  • No new rulebooks introducing new content into the Compendium or Character Builder
  • No updates or fixes to the Character Builder
  • No updates of fixes to the Compendium
  • No updates or fixes to the Adventure Tools
  • A total lack of many other programs (virtual table, character visualiser/portrait, etc) that were promised back at the start of the service.
Plus, there has been no clear response from WotC about what will happen with the 4e online tools, once 5e is released in a few months time.  I don't think it wise to sign up for another year when I might only get a few months out of that subscription.
In short, the price-point of the subscription has been hard for some time now, but with these issues, it has become greatly undesirable.  I do not think it a fair, nor wise price point to commit the asked amount of money to a service that provides me with a slow and broken character builder, and a compendium of rules I already own in paper form, and that should be free anyway.   
If you were to offer a downloadable version of the compendium and character builder (preferably one that allowed us to fix what WotC does not seen to feel it necessary to fix), where we could work to include our own house rules, where we could fix links to use in such programs as, and where we could have as many characters as we want, instead of the very restraining 20 hard limit, then I'd be interested.  But for now, I have to say "no thanks", and leave my subscription expiring.
As I said before, it is sad that it has to go, but they have continuously given less than they promised up-front, and with the culling of all new mechanics, the price-point leaped into the absurd.  The asked-for price was harsh when it was for a number of articles, a few books of info, and the online tools.  For simply the tools, I have to say "no".

Now, let's see where that leaves me in a months time...!

Friday, 7 March 2014

PotS 1x02 - Whispered Secrets

These posts are from our DnD group's latest game. The current adventure is a return to the world of Eberron, and specifically Xen'drik. The pirate crew have taken to the land, and are trying to make their way to the Watchtower that looms overhead atop the gulf's cliffs. But before them are some trees...many trees!

The foreboding forest loomed overhead, it's dark branches thick with webs. A path had already been cut through sections of webbing and brambles, presumably by those who had camped at its edge before them. There were no signs of Galinndan, who had vanished at some point in the night.

The party moved into the wooded area, cutting through webbing far too thick to be the work of regular spiders. Regdar found a relatively clean tree, and climbed to the top. From there, he gained enough knowledge to direct their paths more clearly, eventually leading them out of the spider-infested trees. However, even as they left, there were surprises remaining to be found: bodies of three giant spiders sagged in trees and lay cut apart across their path; the floor of the forest was littered with dozens of smaller (but still overly large) hatchlings. All were quite dead; crushed, stabbed, even scalded by magic. And not only the arachnids showed the signs of battle - trees had lost leaves and branches amidst the skirmish. But once again, the mysterious party had not left enough to identify themselves.

The Budding Feyspire
By about midday, the party had made it to what felt like the heart of the forest. Trees stood around them as far as any could see, and though the dark tower loomed ever waiting in the far north, they didn't feel quite as unnerved by it as they had done earlier. But this grove was not just a safe-haven - it held a pond, and from the pond protruded a strange object. The grove was filled with a strange magic...and, as they grew aware of their surroundings, a number of eladrin, too.

The leader turned on them sharply, demanding answers from the dwarves, but his companion stilled his hostilities. "No, Berrian," Galinndan spoke calmly. "They are not the ones you saw earlier - they are...with me."

Once introductions were made, the eladrins explained their own presence. Sir Berrian and his sister Analastra had been searching for their father, Zandrian Velfarren, for a significant period of time. They had travelled far, and been lost in the chaotic jungles of Xen'drik more often than not, but had finally found traces of him here. The pool had a budding feyspire, a growing eladrin tower, that their father had hoped would one day become a castle enchanted with fey magic, and provide a way back to their lands. But neither had actually found their father. And Analastra had gone missing during a routine scouting operation... Kami and her crew begrudgingly agreed to join the scouting effort.

Of Beasts and Maidens
The short bell-tower was falling apart, decades (if not centuries) of neglect had allowed the surrounding forest to reclaim much of the area about it. But still, the touch of the feywild had changed the place. Analastra was found, running, nearby the ruined tower; the feybeasts catching and throwing her to the ground as the party charged in to her defence. The displacer beasts were tough, sneaky and quick, but the rugged dwarves fought on, and slew them both before the elf was lost to her other enemy - a pair of stirges. The dire bloodsuckers had been awoken from their nest within the bell-tower, and happily shifted their attention to the meals-on-legs that the dwarves offered, but eventually even they were disposed.

When she could sit and speak again, Analastra explained why she had been trying to fight the beasts. She had found a cottage that she assumed was her fathers. Within it would be magics and enchantments that would help them defend and grow the spire, but a pair of owlbears had taken up residence. Knowing the owlbear's dislike for displacer beasts (the scents sent them running), she had foolishly tried to heard them in that direction. But now, perhaps there would be an easier task?

Regdar and Urquilla helped skin and de-gland the beasts, before "preparing" the dwarves with the musks of the creatures. Tentacles were slung across shoulders like elaborate scarves, and a few extra glands were handed across as short-ranged splash weapons.  Then, the pair helped Analastra back to the fey camp.

The dwarves had been surprisingly stealthy upon their approach to the hut.  They had even practised their mimicry of the beasts well beforehand, and felt confident in their calls.  But still, mistakes happened, roofs were collapsed, and a little too much displacer-gland was sprayed on the wrong individual.  They managed to get one owlbear to flee; the second, they had to kill (after using Hassan as live bait).

Secret Revelations 
There was one further task that the Velfarrens asked of Kami and her crew - to search for any further sign of their father.  Even more begrudgingly than last time, they accepted, and spent the better part of their afternoon combing a section of woods for any further information.  The only thing they came across was a grove of nymphs.  Well, that might have been enough for some folk, but Kami, Tvennr and Hassan?  No, they did not like it, not one bit.  They put up with them, in the hopes of information.  They listened to their singing, they obliged their music, and much of the rest of their little 'games' session may well never be told again.  In the end, the nymphs promised knowledge in return for secrets, and so, one by one, the three dwarves eventually gave of themselves in order to learn more.

Tvennr revealed a personal shame.  He liked the seas, and he thoroughly enjoyed sky-ships...what lurked behind the dwarf's tough, rough exterior was a fear, however.  Though born to the mountain caves, the ranger found himself prone to claustrophobia, especially in naturally-forming caves. For a dwarf, this was pretty grave indeed.  In return, one nymph told him about the dragons, how they flew in from Argonnessen, attracted to the raw magical power of the artefact, and had decimated the nearby town when they first arrived.  They would allow nothing to come between them and their riches...though that dark tower still had them paused.  For now, they lurked on the eastern side of the gulf, and on a few of the islands in between, watching and snapping at anyone who looked to be a threat to their increased wealth and power.

Eager to learn more about the tower, Kami offered one of her less desirable past experiences.  Her first "First Mate" role was not given to her purely based upon her talent as a sailor, but rather because she slept with the captain.  Nothing more about the captain was said; that was incriminating enough.  Nodding, one nymph stepped up to tell the trio of the black Watchtower, which had stood central to the downfall of the area.  It was a place used to keep the cove, and the settlement within it, in security and safety, until it was linked to Xoriat, the Realm of Madness.  For almost 9,000 years, the realm had been locked away, after Daelkyr had crossed over and caused the downfall of the golinoid Dhakaani Empire.  Druids and dragons had worked alongside then, barely managing to stop the chaotic forces from destroying all life on Eberron.  This time, the Watchtower had been the battleground, and it was the cork that stopped the madness leaking into our world.

Still with no answer to the whereabouts of Analastra and Berrian's father, Hassan stepped forward with his own revelation to give.  All knew of his hate of elvenkind; many had heard rumours of childhood complications with the fey people; but none had known who had started his vendetta.  None, until today, when he uttered four simple words..."It was a girl..."  Nothing more would be said, but the nymphs, perhaps sensing something deeper, or knowing something left unsaid, nodded solemnly. "Zandrian Velfarren was last seen defending the Watchtower. He never left. He can be found there, still."

After hearing about the nymphs advice, Galinndan decided to visit them.  He had struggled with this secret long enough - it was time for him to share it with another...and gain from the experience.  As it turned out, heights were his weakness; he is fine on a ship, but secretly dreads ever completing his mission, and managing to get one to actually fly.  With a knowing smile, the closest nymph nodded her head, and offered up a riddle - "Cards collect atop towers, and with commanders of companies."  Simple enough, Galinndan thought, and perhaps that is why the nymph had given it as such - was that a wink that had passed between her and the eladrin?

Ominously as it sounded, the dwarves' actions did not change. They were headed to the Watchtower before; now, there was but another reason to head there. Circling back to alert Urquilla and Regdar of their plans and to let the Velfarrens know of their learning, Kami's crew marched out of the forest, killed a few extra spiders on their way, and started their trek to the cliff walls, and the base of the dark Watchtower.

Friday, 28 February 2014

Pirates of the Thunder Sea - Meet the Crew! (part 2)

This post is some background for our latest game.  The current adventure is a return to the world of Eberron, and specifically Xen'drik.  Last week, we met the dwarven half of the PCs, now let's see what the taller half are like!
Admiral Galinndan Duskwalker, Emissary of the Spire

"Admiral" Galinndan Duskwalker

Galinndan left his Feyspire numerous years ago to explore the possibilities of harnessing the power of airships without a Dragonmark.  His title is less of a naval rank, and more of a rough translation of his position back in the Feyspire.

Galinndan's current predicament - being trapped at the mercy of a dwarven crew of pirates - came about after his latest voyage of experimentation failed.  The experimental ships foundered and sunk not long into the journey, leaving the renamed (and re-crewed) Kami Kaze to be attacked and plundered by the piratical bunch of dwarves.

The eladrin believes that he can find a way to bring the airship technology to the Feyspires, though he concedes that the half-elves, and House Lyrandar in particular, may not be too keen on losing their monopoly.

Urquilla the Scaled, Delegate of the Takamak Tribe

Urquilla the Scaled

Urquilla recently joined the dwarven crew after their latest stop off in Stormreach.  There, the dwarves managed to save his father from the hands of savage orcs, and he signed himself on as payment for the debt he felt he owed them.

Brought up as one of the few remaining warriors in his tribe who still drew their strength from primal forces, Urquilla has been trained to fight the hated Argonnessan dragons from a young age.  Already mastering the fighting styles of the Black, Red and Gold dragons, his recent foray with the White aboard the Kami Kaze has further expanded his repertoire of manoeuvres.  

Despite his rough appearance, Urquilla has had a good amount of schooling, already speaking Dwarven fluently, and making good headways into the Elven tongue.  He hopes he may be able to soothe tensions between the two races, though realises that there will probably be few opportunities to perform such tasks.

Regdar d'Vadalis, Outcast Animal Handler

Regdar d'Vadalis

Regdar the Druid wouldn't even admit to his last name or dragonmark until Kami forced it out of him "for official reasons".  What the House Vadalis animal trainer was doing on his own in Stormreach has not yet been divulged, though it is only too apparent that he had some sort of falling out with his house.  Those that knew him vouched that he had been in Xen'drik for a few years, back from before the Last War ended, though none could add to his mysterious background.

What he lacked in clear answers he made up for in other talents, not the least of which is his uncanny ability to see clearly in the darkest of nights, and at a distance far outstretching any other on board the ship.  So, the mysterious traveller joined the crew as lookout, causing Redtail to return to his rigging role.

Although he keeps to himself, he has no lack of companions - animals of all kinds come to him, fighting alongside or even ahead of Regdar, and all with a fierce loyalty that would see them dead before he should take injury.

Thanks for reading about our crew! Now, look out for their future adventures, coming soon!

Friday, 21 February 2014

Pirates of the Thunder Sea - Meet the Crew! (part 1)

This post is some background for our latest game.  The current adventure is a return to the world of Eberron, and specifically Xen'drik.  One character (Kami) has carried across from our previous Drow game, but is no less worthy of introduction.  So, please meet the first half of the characters!
The Dread Pirate Kami, once more upon the seas!

The Dread Pirate Kami

Somewhere in her past, Kami's family descended from those in Mror Holds, but the land she holds as "home" is a little east of that: the Lhazaar Principalities.  It was there that her family raised her, and there that she learnt her trade - piracy.

With a (unfortunately fake) treasure map in hand, she took her meagre crew south to the untamed lands of Xen'drik, in search of wealth, magic, and fame...and ended up shipwrecked and drunk, lost in the jungles, and captured by drow.

Between drink, jungle, and crazed drow, Kami somehow managed to survive and eventually cut herself free from all three.  With a bare-bones crew and a vessel hardly worth the name, she set out again, this time finding riches on an elven ship. It's crew put up little in the way of defence, and soon it was hers: the 'Kami Kaze'.

Now with ship, crew, and enough wealth to (barely) feed them, Kami is back on her search for lost treasure along the Xen'drik coast!

Tvennir Breiox Farmaor, Scourge of a Hundred Battlefields

Tvennir Breiox Farmaor

Tvennr has been around boats and ships (both sea-bound and those aloft in the skies) since he was relatively young, when his family moved into a small port town.  They were working as blacksmiths and armourers, but he was never interested in that line of business; instead, he set a task for himself to escape the area, and head to the sea.

Over the years, he has spent time working for "independent" airships, helping to clean out various caverns and other locations that folk of more reputable means would have little use for.  However, the end of the war brought a crackdown from House Lyrandar on the "independent" airships, meaning Tvennr has had difficulty recently gaining work, and so has taken more sea-based jobs.

Though he misses the sky, especially as the sea air intensifies the crustiness of his beard, he was thankful of Kami's captaincy after being stranded in port so long.  The other company could be better, but he admits he has put up with worse.

Hassan Elfbane, Treasurer of House Kundarak

Hassan Elfbane

As a child from a minor line of House Kundarak, Hassan was "bullied" by an "elf" - the exact nature of these events have been clouded by time, but Hassan has dedicated himself to righting this wrong, primarily by killing most any elf he can.  Or eladrin.  Or half-elf.  Or a human with particularly pointy ears... He's not a barbarian (not quite), so he does manage to restrain himself at times... and if the incentive is right.

Being not only a member of House Kundarak, but also dragonmarked, Hassan is the only member of the pirate crew who is widely trusted to hold the ship's treasure - which he does, in a magically linked chest, deep within the Mror Holds vaults.  Interestingly, this trust sees him also act as the ship's cook.  The thinking is that he would be the least likely to deliberately poison the crew - the taste of the food might suggest otherwise.

Although he was very happy to have liberated the shop from the elves, he was not so happy when one of them was allowed to stay aboard.  The promise of riches did, as it often does, turn his blade.  For Hassan is thinking that after some twenty years away from family and home, it may be time to return soon - he just needs to establish some independent wealth, first.

Stay tuned for next week, when the second half will be introduced!

Friday, 14 February 2014

Pirated Mechanics

I cancelled my DnDI subscription this week.  It felt kind of sad, a more official end to the long journey I had with WotC through the fourth edition of DnD.  Now, we're parting ways - they are going on with their 'next' edition (come on, let's all just call it 5e, we all know that's what it is!), whilst I'm happy hanging back with the wealth of information and adventures left with 4e.

That's not to say we're going to continue playing as-written - we weren't really doing that anyway. That's one of the great things about DnD, adapting and mutating it as your group sees fit.  And that's going to happen moreso now, as we're left without the tools that many, especially myself, feel have become a stable part of the game.  But sadly, they have failed - whilst the online compendium certainly made games easier to run (I look back with horror at the many years I tried to run online games of 3e DnD, with only the SRD online, and everything else in a book on a shelf nearby - how hard it was to look up a power, a feat, or a spell! The compendium, and great sites like iplay4e, helped look up and understand rules so simply), they never fully delivered on their promises.  The virtual table never surfaced, the character portrait vanished without a trace, and even those tools that made it through were sickly and malnourished (Monster builder? Encounter builder?).  The Character Builder, arguably the best part of the package, is still slow and sluggy, in need of updating, and capped at an embarrassing 20 characters.  I have over 400 saved character files, and even though some are doubles (characters at various levels), the majority are unique characters.

And so it is that I have made the decision to stop my many years of my DnDI subscription.  Of course, it helped that they have stopped the Dragon and Dungeon magazines (and had many months of irrelevant content beforehand), and that no new books or information have come into the compendium for some time.  Much of what was offered has not been given, and a lot of the rest is sorely missing.  I can only assume that will get worse once 5e is finally released officially.  I would hope that they open the compendium up to the "few" folk remaining behind in DnD (at least, that seems to be WotC's take - not enough to merit continuing to support the product, not enough to shape the coming 5e?), or failing that, allow it to be downloaded and used at home.  The latter would save them server costs and allow fans to update it as needed.  But whatever they choose, the simple fact is that a whole lot of 4e games will need to start running without it, or pay an exorbitant fee for a fraction of what was originally promised them.

The big question is then, how do you run 4e without those tools?  Well, maybe you don't ask yourself that.  I do. I wonder how I will keep track of character powers without having to pour through books continuously.  How to look up rules when needed.  How to know which errata has been applied, and what the correct reading of that particular feature is.  Strangely, my engineering mind wants to simplify the least, a little.  And so, over my home games this year, my group will be taking in some big houserules adapted from another adaptation from (or take on, or houserules for) DnD: 13th Age.

Simply, we are shortening character levels (by a third) to soften maths, but keeping the power level the same.  Less feats, more base damage.  Less powers, but the powers remaining are more impressive, being built up and strengthened.  Our aim is to have characters that are still of the same power level (or perhaps a little tougher), but are simpler to play, are quicker to run, and have less rules-baggage dragging behind them.  Now all that is left is to see how effective the change are!

Friday, 7 February 2014

Pirates of the Thunder Sea 1x01 - A Salty Start to Adventure

These posts are from our DnD group's latest game.  The current adventure is a return to the world of Eberron, and specifically Xen'drik.  Although one character (the Dread Pirate Kami) has carried across between campaigns, the rest of the party is new, and the adventure has little bearing on the Drow game of old. 

The ship was sailing south, along the coast of wild Xen'drik jungles, towards the Gulf of Zantashk, despite some of the crews' strong resistance.  Tvennir in particular was muttering amongst a few of the other dwarves about the horrors he has faced over the past thirty-four voyages across the dreaded bay.  Still, despite his reluctance, the Dread Pirate Kami was able to convince him to stay with the group, thanks to some flowery promises of riches and wealth, and Tvennir's apparent lack of understanding as to basic mathematics.  

The elven crew that once inhabited the decks were all gone, save for one individual - Admiral Galinndan Duskwalker.  He had bargained, first for his life from Hassan Elfbane's axe, and then for his place on his captured ship.  Information was his main bartering good - he alerted the crew to a hidden valuable they were about to throw away, a small box hidden in a secret compartment of one of the chests of elven goods.  The box contained but a single item - a solitary card.  But the card had power - on its face was a flame, flickering back and forth as if it were real.  There was much power in the card, magical enchantments just waiting to be focused and used.  And Galinndan said he knew where they could find more.

Selling of Stolen Supplies
When they had arrived in Stormreach - almost a month ago, now - their intention was to sell off all the mundane elven-treasures found in the store below via Kami's usual fence.  It would not get them the best prices, but it would be quick, easy, and without questions.  This time, however, Hassan suggested trying his cousin Walid, whom he had ties with from Khorvaire.  Walid has trade contacts in Trolanport, Zilargo, and could get far better prices on the goods than any fence could manage. However, it would take time to ship them across to Khorvaire and get the money returned.  Whilst they waited, Walid offered them another job.

A simple scouting mission was all he asked - sailing down the the Gulf of Zantashk, map out the ruins, determine a safe path to the watchtower that overlooked the Gulf, discover the truth about the dragon sightings (for more than a few folk had started talking about the Argonessen folk being sighted along the shores of Xen'drik), note the safe harbours for ships to travel, and determine what sort of threats there were in the area (in addition to dragons, that is!). 
By the time they returned from such a scouting trip, their money - and their payment for their task - would be waiting them. 

A Few New Hands on Deck
Whilst in Stormreach, the ship picked up a few more crew members.  First, the dwarves came across a rowdy bunch of feral orcs, who had nearly torn a scaled man apart.  This thing was quite rare - the violence, and the scales.  Not many humans had scales, and almost all who did lived on Argonessen with the dragons, or Q'barra, with the other lizardfolk.  But there was a tribe of barbarians - the Takamaks - who sought to battle the dragons, and who took on scales through their primal magics.  The Takamak elder lived, and his son Urquilla, wanting to pay back the debt of his father's life, offered to join the crew. 

The other human to join the crew was an animal handler by the name of Regdar d'Vadalis.  He bore the mark of Handling, and saw with the eyes of Hawk and Owl. Naturally, he proved to be an excellent lookout, though exactly why he wanted to travel with them was never answered clearly...

Scaled Terror on the Seas
The dragons, clearly, had no such problem.  On the third day, Redgar called out to Kami, and the crew prepared for an attack.  Three dragons, including one monstrous white one, swept down from the cliffs towards the ship, swooping in close to allow their riders to jump and engage the crew.  Despite their ferocity, the dragons were ill-prepared for the skill and might housed on the vessel.  The riders were finished quickly, and the copper dragons only survived by keeping well out of reach, and fleeing when the battle turned.  The great white would have followed them, but for Galinndan's display of might - the eladrin caught the gargantuan dragon and held it fast atop the ship, blinded and immobilised by his own magic.  There, the crew (and especially Tvennir) cut into its unprotected belly, whilst Kami kept the ship moving just so.  The deck would need a good week of scrubbing, but the dragon's dead body fell to the side as it struggled for safety, and didn't deal too much damage to the ship.
The inland coast proved as harsh as the cliffs that met the sea, and it took them a further two days to find a safe spot to port.  Safe might have been a hasty word, for there were numerous wrecks sighted beneath the clear waters, but at least they could anchor the boat for cleaning and repairs, and send a party to investigate the land.

Landbound: Ruins and the Ruined
The town had been destroyed.  Tvennir was particularly saddened by the destruction of a favoured inn, but the entire settlement had been reduced to ash, burnt timbers and scalded stone.  Dragons had been through here, weeks, maybe months ago, destroying anything that dared to suggest interest in the ancient ruins.  And somehow, a hydra had been left to guard the way to those ruins.

Not wanting to face the four-headed beast just yet, the party elected to first make the trek through the forest, and up to the watchtower.  Before entering the dark forest, they camped and rested on solid ground for the first time in over a month. 

They weren't the first to camp outside the forest - small tell-tale signs of another group passing this way within the past few days were only too clear. A boot-print here, a scuffed tree there, some discarded waste behind a bush... Could they be survivors from the town?  Natives of the jungles further inland?  Scaled riders, or other allies of the dragons?

Friday, 6 December 2013

A Sample of 13th Age: The Lich King's Crown

The Lich King has a crown, hidden away in his vault, within his skull fortress, at the centre of his city of the undead, upon his island necropolis, in the middle of the Midland Sea.  If it weren't such an important crown, if there were not so many great reasons to want to steal (or retrieve) it, the wise would simply let it be.

But the crown is not just a crown, not just a symbol of power. It is also the phylactery of one Baron Voth, and with the item in hand, Urquilla may well have some leverage over the Baron, and be able to track down where the legendary White Dragon is.  The barbarian, raised by the Takamak tribe since birth, longs to be able to enact revenge upon the three great dragons who decimated his village.

Of course, Stump wanted the crown, too.  He knew a priestess of the Priestess who would perform a much-needed resurrection, should he obtain the crown.  The cleric didn't want to work alongside the Priestesses underlings, but some times, such things were necessary.  Murdak would probably agree - after all, he had chosen to serve the empire and work against the Lich King instead of the other jobs he would be forced into - many no place for a scholarly wizard of his upbringing.  And Kelly? Well, the elven ranger simply jumped at an opportunity to work against the hated Lich King.

So, together, the four of them set out for Roachdale.  Murdak's research had shown only one individual who might know how to find their way through the maze-like necropolis; a half-orc treasure-seeker by the name of Jont Urner.  Roachdale was the location of his last sighting.

Kelly had been to Roachdale a number of times before, selling furs gained from hunting expeditions.  The village's economy was cattle-based, and they had little opportunity for the warm fur coats Kelly traded with them.  However, when last he visited, Urquilla noted that there was a deep sense of fear in the locals - something in nature was upset.

That something, it turned out, was a living dungeon.  It had erupted through the hillside, and had drawn a swarm of insects around it, blackening out the village with a cloud heavy enough to be easily spotted from a distance.  Stump took Kelly's hastily-crafted torch, and created a reasonable smoke-filled bubble of protection from the creatures, allowing the group to pass through.

The horrid spine of the living dungeon jutted out of the centre of the village, displacing and destroying a few houses and other buildings along the way.  As they stood before it, aware of the horrendous carved skulls, a section of the wall opened, and five demons walked out.  Murdak was about to try diplomacy, but Kelly had no patience for such clearly evil creatures, and quickly brought battle forward; though the ranger stayed at a distance, Kelly's arrows joined the others as they fought back the demons, slaying each and every one of them - and acquiring a silver key.

Finding their way through the maze of tunnels, whilst dodging the few remaining patrols, was no easy task.  Only together did they make it - Kelly used a fine shot and some sturdy rope to allow everyone safe passage across a deep chasm, and Urquilla saved them all from a long, cold swim by smashing through an unstable wall when they thought the only way ahead was into the pool.  As their passage ended in mid-air, Stump's faith revealed an invisible walkway across a giant cavern, and Murdak's magic kept the threatening storm at bay. 

Eventually, they made it to a room in which stood a solitary chest, its lock matching the key Urquilla wore around his foot. The key opened this chest, and within were an array of items - an elven cloak to hide Kelly's presence; an orb of power to replenish Murdak's magic; a potion to ward off the cold for Urquilla, and a vial of healing, straight from the Crusader's own stock for Stump.  Stump and Urquilla also picked up some magical oil, before continuing on their way.

The heart of the living dungeon was a large, circular room, with cages containing prisoners of varying levels of decomposition hanging from the roof.  The group thought they saw one that looked half-orc-ish, but had little time to check it out before Kelly notices spiders and other crawling creatures currying away from one of the doors.  Surely enough, the sound of footsteps followed, as the room grew colder, and the stench of sulphur filled their noses.  A large demon burst into view, and not even Murdak felt it possible to talk this one down!

With a well-placed blast of acid, he caused the demon such pain that handfuls of tick-demons leapt from its body like rats fleeing a sinking ship, and flowed over to those standing a little too close.  Gnawing and sucking, the parasites caused Urquilla enough injury that the vrock took him down - momentarily - the situation all the worse when Stump momentarily lost his ability to heal.
But eventually, the parasites were squashed, the vrock was defeated, and the prisoner rescued.  The only downside was that Jont was dead.  All was not lost - the adventurer had his map on him - literally.  The map to the necropolis was tattooed across the half-orc's back, and with Stump standing guard, no one was going to take a blade to obtain the instructions.  But - that wasn't all; they also needed a compass...made from dragon's teeth.  Fortunately, Murdak knew someone...

There was an adventurer, a demon-touched dragon hunter (semi-retired) by the name of Shez-a-kah.  She was said to know of a brood of white dragons living up on Gorogan's Maw, but she wasn't about to hand out their location to just anyone.  So, whilst Stump stood outside, disapprovingly glaring at anyone who dared to enter the Shadow Port tavern, the others challenged Shez to a game - should they win, she would tell them of the dragons' location; should she win, Murdak would cover her tab. 

Kelly and Urquilla tried to support Murdak's game, with distractions, insights, and stories of old (Shez was most impressed when Urquilla revealed that he was the baby found in the devastated village, ten years post destruction!).  He even tried his own hand at the match, hoping that his time with the Takamak tribe would help him - but it looked like it was a different game altogether, or there were some strange rules added to it since.  Despite their best efforts, Shez proved victorious, and grinned menacingly as Murdak struggled with the obscenely large bill she had racked up.  The only way he could afford to cover his end of the deal was to hand over the precious stone he had found within the dungeon...and so he did.

Moved both by Urquilla's tale of origin, and by Murdak's honesty and loyalty to his bargain, Shez ultimately was convinced to share the position of the dragons, and the party headed up the snow-covered, treacherous climb. 

True to her word, Shez's location proved to be the resting cave of not just a few, but seven white dragon hatchlings.  Fortunately, an older sibling showed up to defend them (poorly, as it turned out), for the hatchling's teeth would not have been enough for the compass.  After rising from the snow (for he had been knocked down again), Urquilla grabbed the large flying beast by the jaw, and, with a tremendous blow, sheared its head right off.  Letting the body fall down into the ravine below, the barbarian held aloft the gory trophy, knowing he was one step closer to finding those that destroyed his village so many years ago.