Dungeons & Delvers: The Heart of Hemskil, Episode 102

  • Gardia (3rd-level human fighter)
  • Lydell (3rd-level dwarf wizard)
  • Sinzed (3rd-level human fighter/wizard)

Since they'd managed to accumulate a sizable amount of silver during their foray into the sewers, the characters decided to shack up at an inn until their wounds had healed.

This would also give them time to plan their next course of action: they were certain the Rat King had the ruby, and resolved to find a way to infiltrate his lair and retrieve it. Fortunately they didn't have to bother, because he came to them.

Or specifically Gardia, once she was all alone.

She awoke during the first night, to the sound of something scratching at the walls within her room. She slowly sat up and reached for her sword, but a small voice hissed at her to remain still if she wanted to live. The voice then told her that he knew where the ruby was, and he would tell her if she agreed to perform a favor for him.

Gardia reluctantly complied, and he explained that he had given the ruby to Lord Cattiva, the ruler of the faeries that still dwelled within the Hemskil Forest. His fortress was located somewhere near the center of the forest: it would look like any other tree, perhaps a bit larger, with a knothole at its base. surrounded by a thorny bush with blood-red berries as large as a man's head.

All Gardia had to do was bring him Cattiva's crown, and her debt—for the blood that was shed, the sword they had stolen, and the information he had provided—would be paid.

A large rat then plopped on her lap, and scurried away into the wall. The next day Gardia told Lydell and Sinzed what she learned. They were understandably skeptical, but they hadn't actually seen the ruby in the Rat King's combination throne room and treasury. It was likely that if he did have it, he would be certain to hide it somewhere that they'd never find it.

After spending almost all of their savings on food and healing supplies, they set out for the Hemskil Forest. They made sure to keep close to the cliffs that overlooked the Nissen Sea, and after three days arrived at their destination. The thick canopy of the towering trees filtered out most of the sunlight, obscuring everything below in a blanket of shadow. It was silent and still, as if the forest itself was waiting, and watching.

All they had to do was make it to the center, and find a tree surrounded by brambles. Easy, right?

Several hours after they'd entered Lydell realized, due to the sun's acutely shifted position, that they had veered far off course. Gardia climbed the tallest tree she could find to help reorient them, using the position of Tjelos as a reference, and they continued on. This sudden change in direction would repeat itself once or twice each day, which lead Lydell to conclude that both space and perhaps time within the forest weren't constants.

By what they could only assume was the third day, they were closing in on the center-most region of the forest, when a tree suddenly lumbered towards Lydell and struck him. The force of the blow flung him back, and he collided with another tree before crumpling to the ground. While Gardia and Sinzed stood there in shock a group of five faeries, perched high above on a branch, rained molten arrows upon them.

Unable to reach the faeries, Gardia brandished her flaming sword and attacked the tree, while Sinzed did his best to keep her safe from the faeries' arrows. After Lydell cleared his head and regained his feet, he provided support from a very safe distance. He didn't target the faeries, instead focusing on the tree. Fortunately once it was destroyed the faeries fled, but not before demanding that they leave the forest.

While they watched them go, wary of another trick, a hand grasped Lydell's shoulder and spun him around. It belonged to a tall, broad man. He had a rugged face, and was clad in thick animal hides. He introduced himself as Ulvar, and said that if they had their own food they could stay in his lodge for the night. Given that he hadn't simply attacked or abducted Lydell, they accepted his offer.

They didn't learn much about Ulvar: he lived in the forest, and for some reason greatly preferred it to the city. That night, despite being inside a fortified shelter, they decided to take watch anyway. When it was Lydell's turn he heard a wolf howl in the distance. After a time he heard it again, though it was much closer, and by the time it howled a third time he knew it was no more than a stone's throw from Ulvar's house..

The forth howl never came: instead the beast pawed loudly at the door, and then smashed into it. The door cracked, but held, and Lydell went to rouse Gardia and Sinzed in anticipation of the wolf bursting through. Thankfully it did not test the door a second time, and when Gardia, skeptical of a wolf being there at all, opened it there was nothing.

The next day they set out early, before Ulvar woke. By midday they finally found the tree. True to the Rat King's word it was utterly unremarkable in every way: the brambles, or more accurately the berries that grew from it, were its only defining feature. They could barely make out the knot hole at its base, which looked just large enough to accommodate Gardia's body. They weren't sure exactly what they were going to do if they managed to squeeze inside, but first things first.

The brambles were too thick to navigate: it would have to be destroyed if they were to continue. The thorns were long and looked quite sharp, so Lydell decided to play it safe and use his magic to try and shred it from a distance. To their surprise it was motile, and sent out tendrils to seize them. It only managed to enwrap Gardia and pull her in, and she felt a sharp pain as the thorns began siphoning her blood. She was suddenly glad she hadn't tried any of the fruit.

Sinzed helped pull Gardia free, allowing her to draw her flaming sword and savagely hack at the brambles. It burst into flame, and then the berries exploded, showering Gardia with sizzling blood. When the fire died down and Gardia wiped off as much of the blood as she could, they crawled into the knothole and were astounded by what they saw.

It was much, much larger on the inside. Brilliant shafts of sunlight shone through opaque windows, illuminating a vast, circular chamber. Numerous luxurious chairs and couches were set against the walls, and somewhere they could hear a harpsichord playing. In the center of the room a staircase spiraled around a wooden shaft. At the base of the shaft was a stone fountain, in which several nude, female figures laughed and splashed about.

There were more faeries, identical to the ones they'd encountered in the forest, though they had grown to the size of a human. Or, had they shrunk down to faerie size?

Behind the Scenes
There were two bits of criticism this time around.

The first was that, for the most part, Chris didn't feel that the characters were in any real danger. Partially I think this is due to the Aid Another rules, where you add your dice to the character's Pool that you're helping out. Specifically, Sinzed often used his action to Defend Gardia, which gave her a considerable number of dice to roll when attacked.

Though I've since reigned in the effects of the wizard's Abjurer talent, I think the bigger problem was that I A) wasn't sure how many monsters a party could reasonably face at a given time (we've mostly done one-shots), and so erred on the side of caution, and B) I kept attacking Gardia whenever she was assisted for no good reason.

The solution is to add more monsters to the mix, and instead go after Sinzed whenever he aids Gardia (or even Lydell). The purpose of the Abjurer talent is to make the wizard more durable (you get to use Intellect and Arcana to defend, instead of Might and Armor), as well as effectively aid your allies from a distance (which works out great in this game, since you can either move really far, or move a short distance and still do something).

The other, somewhat more difficult issue to resolve is the lack of thematically related talents. At the start there were only about ten or so talents per class, but now everyone's 3rd-level and they want more talents that better fit their theme. For example, the fighter has Slayer, which adds a d6 to their Attack Pool...and that's it. There's no Great Slayer, Mighty Slayer, or even Slayer II to add another die, or bump up the size of the bonus die.

My current fix is to give certain talents ranks (think Powers in Mass Effect 2 and 3). When you level up, you can choose a new talent, or "rank up" an existing one. This avoids the problem of having to come up with names that essentially mean Better [Thing] and Bestest [Thing], while making it really easy to figure out what to do with your talents if you want to focus on something.

After only a couple hours of design and writing, The Swordmage is good to go. If you want a solid fighter/wizard hybrid with twenty-five advanced moves to choose from (in addition to some other extras), pick it up.

Lichfield is available for public consumption. If you want a concise adventure with a Silent Hill feel, be sure to check it out! Primordial Machine is also out, so if you want to catch a glimpse of A Sundered World, now's your chance! Finally, we've updated If These Stones Could Scream.

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