Friday, July 21, 2017

Adventure Locations: Tower Castles

**This article is about Tower Castles in general, and their use in adventures. It is not meant to be a technical discussion about such structures.**

Image in the Public Domain¹ - Eugène Viollet le Duc, c.1856

"A tower castle is a small castle that mainly consists of a fortified tower, or a tower-like structure, that is built on natural ground. It is thus different from the motte-and-bailey castle, which it may resemble, but whose main defensive structure is built on a motte, or artificial hill. The tower castle is occasionally also described as a tower house castle or a tower house." ²

Technically there are several differences between a round tower and a square tower. A round tower offers more protection from siege engines, sappers, and projectiles. Square towers are easier to build, but their corners leave them vulnerable to mining. Unless your campaign uses advanced technical warfare rules, neither structure really matters for game purposes.

Many adventures seem to revolve around this type of structure in fantasy gaming. They are rather straightforward affairs, easily drawn up, and just as easily redressed to be used as a different location for later re-use. Often they are used in a gauntlet-style tier of encounters, with each successive level being more difficult than the last, until the Big Bad Guy (the BBG) is encountered at the top. This approach, however, has several drawbacks such as characters scaling the outside of the structure, or magic spells allowing characters to fly, thus skipping most of the encounters to confront the BBG. Often the whole party isn't present to help the characters that went on ahead.. leaving them without backup, so be prepared with a contingency plan for your adventure.

Tower castles are the most likely to have "dungeons" underneath them as they either sit on a natural rock foundation, or on solid ground. Motte-and-bailey castles have artificial mounds under them and underground construction would make them unstable, or at least limited in size. The legendary Tower of Zenopus, is an example of a tower castle.


Example Tower Castles:

Comlongon Castle


Image in the Public Domain - MacGibbon, D; Ross, T c.1887

Hedingham Castle

Image in the Public Domain - An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Essex, Volume 1, c.1916


Suggested Reading:

The Project Gutenberg EBook of British Castles, by Charles H. Ashdown, c.1911 - Has numerous drawings and sketches.

Sources:

¹ - Source - Dictionnaire raisonné de l'architecture française du XIe au XIe siècle, c.1856
² - From Wikipedia - Tower Castle

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Caravanserai, Not Just Another Roadside Inn

Image in the Public Domain - Lionel Lindsay - A Caravanserai Kairouan,Tunisia, c.1929

For the purposes of this article, a Caravanserai  (car·a·van·sa·ry), is a defensible roadside inn, surrounded by a protective enclosure, with an open courtyard. They may be constructed of wood, but more often brick or stone. They are built as much to be defensible outposts as they are a place of rest and business. Depending upon a particular location's importance. they may be a small affair that can accommodate a modest caravan for a few nights, or be as grand as a spacious palace meant to house several large trade caravans for extensive stays.

In the real world, such buildings were found in deserts, and along lucrative trade routes into Central Asia, North Africa, and Southeastern Europe. In a gaming campaign, there is no reason these types of establishments can't be located elsewhere.

Image in the Public Domain - Artist Unknown

These locations not only served as temporary housing for travelers, but where one could also learn the latest commercial and political news, meet with merchants from other cities and countries, and to conclude trade deals. Travelers could also purchase much need supplies and equipment, and mounts from local and traveling merchants. It was also not uncommon for tax agents and their armed retinue to frequent such places.

Not every location will have the following features available on site, but access may be possible in the local area at the GM's discretion.

Typical features:

  • Defensive wall, either extending around courtyard, or entire compound
  • Sturdy gate, may feature gatehouse with draw bridge, or guard towers
  • Surrounded by cleared fields of vision/fire to reduce ability of attackers to conceal themselves
  • Communal well in courtyard, with watering troughs for livestock and mounts
  • Stalls and barns for livestock and mounts, access to a blacksmith and wagon repair
  • Storage buildings for higher value goods - lower value goods may be piled in courtyard
  • Accommodations for merchants and travelers - lower quality accommodations for guards and retainers
  • Typical tavern or banquet hall, with common room, and private rooms for business
  • Bathing facilities, area to worship
  • Goods, equipment, services, and possibly hirelings
  • Provisions for restocking food and water, and fodder for animals
Typical Encounters:
  • Tax Collector and guard retinue! Caravans passing in and out of territories must keep current on their tariffs, duties, and any other payments (bribes)
  • Local garrisoned troops
  • Other merchants, both local and from afar (either legitimate or illicit)
  • Important officials, nobles, maybe even traveling royalty
  • Assortment of travelers, pilgrims, tradesmen
  • Hirelings, skilled and unskilled, men-at-arms, and maybe a specialist (cleric, sage, etc)
  • Con-men, thieves, and mountebanks
  •  Local and distant news, rumors, and gossip (useful or not)
  • Civilized non-humans
  • Humanoid "monsters" (on non-aggressive business, of course)

Example Caravanserai:

The following is a caravanserai done by Dyson's Logos. You can download this free-to-use map, both with or without grid, HERE. 


Cartography by Dyson's Logos

Suggested Further Reading:


Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Gatehouse - A Letter From the Editor

I always wanted to write that, "A Letter From the Editor". It sounds fancy, but the truth is.. this blog is pretty much just myself writing, editing, researching. I'm more chief cook and bottle washer than editor. But that's okay, I'm comfortable with that. This isn't a second job, I'm not getting paid or anything, I'm just scribbling for the joy of scribbling, and if someone finds something here that they like and can use, so much the better. I'll have shared my passion for gaming, and hopefully made a friend along the way.

PORTCULLIS, originated as an idea kicked around on my Facebook page, with several gaming and writer friends encouraging me and offering their help. I vacillated between doing it and not. Anyone who has ever worked shift work knows that life rotates around sporadic sleep schedules, walking around in a perpetual semi-state of somnambulism, and working to earn a buck. When you can, you juggle a family life, squeeze in some recreation time, and sometimes even have a few moments a day to relax. So why would any sane person attempt to wedge in one more iron in the fire? Because of passion. The desire to create, to express, and to share the thoughts in my brain before they make my head explode. Hmm... maybe not the exact imagery I was going for there, but I think you understand my meaning.

So in December of last year, 2016, I was sitting as I am now, working the night shift in my guard shack, while at my job as a security guard. The snow was swirling around as our maintenance crews worked overtime to clear the roads to our facility, and shoveling the walkways before shift change in the morning. Portcullis was envisioned as a fanzine, much like the dozens of others I had seen online, but I knew I'd never be able to wrangle even a small number of contributing writers, and do all the behind the scenes heavy lifting that go into such a project. Fortunately I didn't give into  feelings of despair. I knew there were viable alternatives. I've long followed blogs like Zenopus Archives, Swords & Stitchery, and Tenkar's Tavern. It would still be possible to release content online, even without a regularly produced fanzine. I'd just do it as a blog. But, I guess you already see where this was going, since you are in fact reading the results of my decision that cold winter's night, here.. on my blog.

Whether this project is a success or not has yet to be seen, but success isn't really my goal. My goal is to create fun content and get it out wherever I can for others to see, discuss, and use as they choose. I've made my decision to not sit back and twiddle my thumbs, letting yet another good idea slip away unrealized. Life is too short, so if I don't make time for what I love, then what am I really doing with my time if not wasting it.

My mailbox is always open for submissions, I encourage comments, and if you locate me on various social media please hit me up. I want to hear from you. Let's share ideas and create content together. I'm more than happy to give proper credit, or to promote a fellow gamer/writer/artist. This blog isn't just about my ideas, it's about people sharing their love of gaming and having fun

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Curious Creatures: The Squonk

Use Facebook long enough and you'll come across just about anything after awhile. Such was the case of a user asking about putting game stats to a creature called a Squonk. Curious, I ran a few Google searches and found several references to the odd little beasties. What follows is a bit of an amalgam of what I found.




Squonk - Artist Unknown




SQUONK (Lacrimacorpus Dissolvens)


Hit Dice: Basic (1-3)
Attack: Water Burst - Special Touch Attack (see below)
Defense: High
Skills/Special Abilities: Expert tracker, sneaking, hiding, camouflage
Intelligence: Normal
Morale: Low
Move: Normal (a bit faster than men running)
Gear/Treasure: None



The Squonk is rumored to be the ugliest creature ever. It's loose skin is ill-fitting and covered in warts and blemishes, causing the creature to be extremely self-conscious and morose. Aware of it's appearance, it hides itself from all other creatures deep in remote forests, spending much of it's time weeping.

These elusive creatures are very difficult to track, being experts at moving silently and hiding. They even have the ability to camouflage themselves, becoming nearly invisible at will as long as they stand still, but the soft sound of their weeping will often give them away if someone takes the time to listen intently.

When cornered and forced to fight, a Squonk will rush at a target and jump forward, changing it's body into a large quantity of water at the last moment. The target will be hit, as if by a giant water balloon, and must make a Dexterity Save, or be bowled off their feet and temporarily blinded, allowing the Squonk to reform and continue running away. Attackers attempting to hit a Squonk will find the creature to be incredibly quick and agile, avoiding all but the most expert blows.

If captured, or defeated in combat, the poor creatures will blubber and wail, immediately dissolving into a pool of bubbling  tears.

Should someone succeed in attempting to befriend one of the pitiful creatures, it will become a willing companion, though it will still avoid the company of other creatures whenever possible.

The tears of the Squonk are valued by Alchemists, as they are believed to possess magical properties.



References:

Squonks appear in, "Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods.", by Cox, William T. with Latin Classifications by George B. Sudworth.  (Washington, D.C.: Judd & Detweiler Inc), c.1910

Friday, July 14, 2017

Adventure Seeds: The Court of Miracles - Part One

Often gamers have heard the term, Thieves Quarter, a dark and dangerous part of town that should be avoided by anyone with even a bit of common sense. Which as we all know, means that the players will make a bee line that way as fast as their little legs will carry them. But are there really such thing as a thieves quarter, and are they really all that common? The answers to these questions are, yes and yes.


Most every city, from ancient to modern times, has had bad parts of town. A section, or even sections, of town where the poor and the indigent live. Crime, filth, and hunger are constants in these quarters. Often the city watch will avoid these sections for fear of gang violence and other various threats, only venturing in under numbers, when local officials feel the need to make a show of force.


Many are the adventures and tales that take place within these slums, dens, and warrens of civilized cities. Often the refuge of the destitute and criminal alike, these "thieves quarters" have many names, one of the most famous being, "The Court of Miracles", in the city of Paris. So called, for during the day, many beggars would feign being blind or even crippled, but come nightfall they would miraculously regain their sight and the use of their legs.


Trips into these bad parts of town are not without peril, nor should they be attempted by the unprepared. These filthy streets and cramped alleyways are the domain of thieves, cut throats, and violent gangs. Only the very poor, the displaced, and the unwanted make their homes here. Those with valuable skills, personal connections, providing services, or those paying for "protection", are afforded any measure of safety within these precincts. they are a place of danger for the outsider, and intrigue for those with socially unacceptable interests. So be wary, keep your head on a swivel, and your hand not far from your blade.

The Court of Miracles
Illustration by Jacques, from Notre-Dame de Paris (The Hunchback of Notre-Dame), by Victor Hugo, Paris, 1844.

The city watch does not maintain a presence within these quarters, nor do tax collectors, or other public officials venture within.. unless on questionable business. Only those unfortunate enough to live there, those with unsavory business, and those seeking thrills both debouched and profane, make their way here.


The streets are not entirely without governance however. Strong gang leaders and faction heads maintain a balance of power, ensuring some semblance of peace. While territorial fights, and gang skirmishes are not uncommon, they are kept to a minimum to avoid stirring up official trouble that the city's rulers may feel the need to quell with an iron fist.

By Gustave Doré - illustration to Notre Dame de Paris


The residents of the poorer sections of town, often make their own entertainments and observances of the holidays. Street shows, bonfires, beggar's fairs, sometimes even with official support, are put on to help keep the population docile. Local churches and nobles making gifts of free bread, clothing, and other needed items, to fulfill religious and charitable obligations, though often of the poorest quality. Often such events are an excuse for drunken debauchery and lascivious behavior, which attract certain individuals from other parts of town to come "slumming" that they may engage in activities forbidden in better social circles
.


Part 2 of this article will give examples of NPCs, organizations, and other adventure seeds.


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Adventure Seed: The Mid-Land Keep of Lord Horach

As the Player Characters' fame and fortunes have grown, so too have their reputations for dealing with troublesome matters. A recruiter, from out of the Mid-Lands, has heard of their exploits and approaches the characters about a job. It seems that a growing danger has reared its ugly head, the dead have returned from their graves to plague the lands of the living, and the players are needed to help end this menace.

Lord Benedikt Horach, a man known for his faith to the gods and a most hospitable host to tradesmen and travelers alike, has been dealing with the outbreak of minor undead for several months now. At first it was a few isolated incidents, but soon grew into a more serious problem of small clusters of undead wandering in packs across the countryside. His human troops have proven themselves in combating the outbreaks, but the threat still grows, with no relief in sight. To this end, Lord Horach has sent out recruiters to find men and women, possessing special skills and abilities, in order to seek out the source of this unholy scourge and put a stop to it.







The layout of Lord Benedikt Horach's keep has been provided to give the PCs a base from which to operate. The Mid-Land Keep is the nearest major stronghold for days in any direction, making it a center for trade and services. A small village, with a recently erected wooden palisade, lays at the foot of the hill upon which the keep sits. Details of the village and its NPCs are left up to the DM.


Suggested NPCs



Lord Benedikt Horach - Veteran of the Border Wars, he is a trained and experienced knight. Though not as physically powerful as he once was, he is as good once as he ever was. Lorded for his service to the Crown, Lord Horach has long been a benefactor and protector of the Mid-Lands.

Sir Ector, Captain of the Guard - The son of Lord Horach's squire, Justanine, from the wars, he has risen through the ranks to himself be knighted by his lord. It is his constant drive and vigilance that has seen his men survive in the struggle against the undead. He does not welcome the PCs, but sees them as rivals. Loyal to Lord Horach, and in love with Quin Anne, he hopes to prove himself to Benedikt and win her hand in marriage.

Quin Anne - Daughter of Benedikt Horach, and lady of the castle. Quin Anne, is of average beauty, but her quick wits, vivacious personality, and fair treatment of others, has won the hearts and loyalties of her father's people. Though not a trained warrior, Quin Anne is an accomplished rider, master of the bow, and very skilled huntsman. She loves Sir Ector, who frustrates her constantly with his need to "prove himself worthy and win her hand". If she didn't have the responsibilities of the castle, she'd have kidnapped him and eloped already.

Scrödd - Though seemingly the least of the defenders of the castle, he is small misshapen from a childhood incident. Scrödd is both clever and resourceful. Sir Ector will place Scrödd in charge of the "guests" (the PCs) as a gesture meant to insult, but the players will soon realize that they have been given a valuable resource and font of information. Quin Anne is very kind to Scrödd, and sees him for the bright young man he is, and suspects his injuries were sustained while saving her life from falling off the castle walls as a child.


Adventure Suggestions:

The recent undead consist of skeletons and zombies. They are animated by a powerful necromantic force that makes them a bit tougher than normal. All of them appear to have been partially feasted upon before their reanimation.

Skeletons - Arrows and other small projectiles are of no use against the skeletons, as are small hand weapons.

The zombies can be taken down, but do not stay down unless their heads are removed or damaged severely. Any player taking the precaution of using a half-action to crushing their skulls while they are temporarily down will succeed automatically, otherwise they regenerate health (not body parts) slowly (1 hit point per round) and rise again in the same combat.

Necrobites - Once a monastic order of monks (not the martial arts kind), living in a monestary several days ride from Horach's keep, they have been overtaken by the Necrophage. They now live in a system of caverns and mines, serving the will of their unholy master. They still retain their spell-casting abilities, but have since turned evil. Any spell using characters that are killed by the Necrobites, will quickly return as a Necrobite NPC themselves.

The Necrophage - An unholy plague, spread by creature calling itself Ordo. This plague has taken hold of most of the monks, turning them into Necrobites. Those that are not transformed are then consumed for food, or reanimated as skeletons and zombies.

Ordo - A creature from beyond the world of men, it came to earth as a comet, burying itself deep upon arrival. It has slept for millennia, until recently uncovered by dwarven miners, who all perished to the creature's ravenous appetite. Ordo can not walk under the sun, and remains in the caverns. The details of this horror are left to the DM. It is suggested that Ordo be played in the background for awhile, to provide a long reaching antagonist to the PCs. The Necrobites will draw the PCs away from Ordo, and appear to be the culprits.


Special Thanks:

I wish to give a special thanks to Hussein Horack, for allowing me to use his original drawing. I had to do a slight photo re-edit because the chapel was accidentally drawn backwards.. Something I hadn't noticed until the artist himself pointed it out.

You can view more of his work HERE, on his DeviantArt page.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Adventure Seeds: The Sea Serpents of Egg Rock

By the gods! Sea serpents have been sighted off the shores of the island, known as Egg Rock*. The keeper of the lighthouse there has also reported strange howls in the night, and black creatures close to the shore. Several local fishermen have also disappeared, along with their boats, leaving no trace behind!

Whatever is going on, the locals are terrified, and merchant ships are stearing clear of the local port for fear of the creatures. Will the player's characters be able to uncover the cause of these sightings, and defeat what dangers they are certain to face?


Public Domain Image - A wood engraving from the early 1800's

This adventure seed can be played one of two ways, the sea serpents are real and have returned to Egg Rock to mate and spawn, or these are fake stories surrounding an elaborate hoax made up by smuggler/pirates in the area to chase away the curious from their operations.OR.. you can have it start out being smugglers using a hoax based on an old legend, only to have the real sea serpents show up during the adventure!

If you do use actual sea serpents in your adventure, depending on what version of your favorite rules you play, you can use giant gar, giant aquatic snakes, or any other creature you feel works best. I suggest giving the creatures a limited ability to walk on land/climb rocks to avoid having the players feel "safe" standing on shore attacking the creatures in the water.

If you use smugglers/pirates, I suggest adding a spell-caster that can create the illusion (or summon even) sea serpents. The smugglers are using large floating baskets (filled with booty), covered in oiled leather, to give the impression of smaller monsters approaching the shore to scare off any witnesses. They use shell horns to make the frightening "serpent" noises to enhance the ruse.

The missing fishermen were victims that strayed too close and were either captured or killed, and their small fishing boats scuttled (sunk). You may have some of the captured men, held in the smugglers' caves until they can be shipped off to the slave market.

For added depth to the adventure, the smugglers can be using underwater caves, with entrances that are only visible during the low tide, and even then only to nearby observers. If you desire a more robust smuggler plot, I suggest Dead Kraken Anchorage, a free map and adventure seed of its own, from Dyson's Logos.


Cartography by Dyson Logos


* - Based upon tales of sea serpent sightings near Egg Rock on Frenchman Bay, Maine.