I converted this monster to D&D Next. I may have to re-do it once the official new rules are published. It is unusual in that it is not your typical swarm. It can contain any number of rats and the more rats the more powerful the swarm. Let me know how you think I did on this. Comments are always welcome.
An individual cranium rat is almost indistinguishable from a normal rodent, except that a portion of its large brain is exposed and pulses with a soft glow. Singly, the creatures are also virtually identical to normal rats, but they are never encountered singly.
Tiny Magical Beast
Armor Class 14
Hit Points 3 (½d10+1); see Traits below
Speed 40 ft., climb 20 ft.
Senses darkvision 60 ft.
Str 2 (-4) Dex 17 (+3) Con 14 (+2)
INT 3 (-4); see Traits below Wis 14 (+2) Cha 13 (+1)
Alignment neutral evil
Languages Cranium rats do not speak, but swarms containing 10 or more rats can communicate telepathically.
Swarm: Cranium rats usually move in swarms of ten or more. In combat, a cranium rat swarm is considered a single creature. The cranium rat swarm can occupy the same space as another creature. Area of effect attacks against the cranium rat swarm gain advantage. Creatures in the same space as the cranium rat swarm make Strength and Dexterity checks at a disadvantage. The cranium rat swarm does not provoke opportunity attacks for moving out of a threatened space.
The amount of space the swarm occupies depends on the number of rats in the swarm.
|Number of cranium rats||Equivalent monster size|
A pack of cranium rats has a group mind—and the more rats the higher its intelligent and the more hit points and abilities it has.
|2-9||18||3 (-4)||Hive Mind, Damage Resistance|
|30-39||72||9 (-1)||Mind Blast|
|100+||198+||20 (+5)||Magic Resistance|
Swam Size Reduction: As larger swarms take damage the size and power of the swarm is reduced. For every 18 hit pots of damage it receives the number of rats in the swarm and the swarms abilities are reduced as indicated in the table above.
Hive Mind: A cranium rat swarm has a hive mind, which makes it susceptible to mind-affecting spells. For purposes of such spells, the swarm is a single creature.
Damage Resistance: The cranium rat swarm is resistant to cold and to slashing and piercing weapons.
Telepathy: A swarm that contain 10 or more cranium rats can communicate telepathically with any creature within 80 feet that that can understand a language.
Speilcasting: The swarm of cranium rats uses its Intelligence as its magic ability to cast spells. The level of spellcaster, the spell save difficulty, and the spells prepared depends on the number of rats in the swarm. The swarm has the following spells prepared:
20-39 cranium rats cast as a 0 level spallcaster (spell save DC 9), and has the following spells:
Cantrips – dancing lights, flare, minor illusion (ghost sound), mage hand, grease
40-49 cranium rats cast as a 2nd-level spallcaster (spell save DC 10), and adds:
1st level (4/day) – magic missile, ray of enfeeblement, shocking grasp
50-69 cranium rats cast as a 3rd-level spallcaster (spell save DC 11), and adds:
2nd level (3/day) – invisibility, mirror image
70-79 cranium rats cast as a 5th-level spallcaster (spell save DC 13), and adds:
3rd level (3/day) – fireball, lightning bolt
80-89 cranium rats cast as an 8th-level spallcaster (spell save DC 14), and adds:
4th level (3/day) – confusion, ice storm
90+ cranium rats cast as a 10th-level spallcaster (spell save DC 15), and adds:
5th level (2/day) – cone of cold
Magic Resistance: A swarm of 100 or more cranium rats gain advantage when making saves against magic spells or effects.
Multiattack: The cranium rat swarm can make one bite attack against each opponent that is in the same space as the swarm.
Melee Attack- Bite: +4 to hit (reach 0 ft.; one creature in same space as the swarm) Hit: 1d4+1 piercing damage
Mind Blast (Recharge 6): A swarm of 30 or more cranium rats can emit psychic energy in a 60-foot cone. Each creature in the area must make an Intelligence saving throw. The DC for the save depends on the number of cranium rats in the swarm; 30-39 (DC 9), 40-49 (DC 10), 50-69 (DC 11), 70-79 (DC 13), 80-89 (DC 14), 90+ (DC 15). Failed Save: The target is stunned for 1 minute but can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, ending the stunned condition early on a successful save.
For more than 1 cranium rat (swarm):
Maylock walked out the south gate of Rockport with an almost imperceptible stride that made her appear to be floating along the ground. When they were quite clear of the city gates her rat familiar, whom she called Bedřich, darted out from under her quilted silk robe and scurried around the bushes and weeds that lined the south road. Others usually called him Fredric, or simply Fred.
The road followed the line of the beach which quickly narrowed and then rose to a rocky cliff at the water’s edge. After walking for about twenty minutes, she came to the top of a small rise and saw for the first time the south fork of Blood River. Where the road met the river there was a stone bridge. Two hundred yards east of the bridge the river spilled over a small waterfall down to the rocks below. A hundred feet beyond the river stood a twenty foot tall wooden wall that started at the cliff edge, extended past the bridge, turned south for about that same distance and then back west to the cliff at the other end. There were slate roofs on the buildings that attached to the inside of the wall. The road went straight up to the wall where there was a wagon gate. A dirt path ran around the outside of the wall. There was a wagon full of dead animals between the wall and the river. Men were removing the remains and placing them on a large table where other men with large cleavers were working on the carcasses. This was beside a spot on the river where it had been widened to provide a shallow rocky area where others were washing the remains.
All morning there had been a slight breeze blowing in from the ocean, but it suddenly shifted and Maylock was nearly overcome by a terrible odor of manure and rotting flesh mixed with that of other offensive smells that she couldn’t quite identify. Bedřich seemed to be offended by the stench as well. He scurried back under her robe and into the familiar crook in her arm where he liked to snuggle. Maylock cast a quick spell, a sweeting cantrap, on a silk scarf and held it under her nose.
As she drew closer to the bridge she saw two young boys talking to a large man in a dirty leather apron. He gave each of the boys a copper piece and took from them a small dirty sack. Whatever it contained was soaking through. The entire bottom of the sack was dark, oily and nearly dripping. He held the sack away from his body and looked up as Maylock approached.
“I have come to talk to the owner of the tannery,” she said through her scarf. “I believe his name is Ricven.”
The man looked her over, head to toe. “I am Ricven,” he said. “From the descriptions I have heard, you must be the Iron Sodality’s wizard.”
“I am Maylock,” she replied with a slight bow. “I am here to survey your tannery to ascertain your readiness and capability to process the dragon’s body when it is delivered to here.”
Richen grunted and stopped himself just before saying something that he would regret later. He remembered that if she did deliver the dragon to him, he would become a very wealthy man. “I will gladly give you a tour, if that is your desire.” He cleared his throat and stood up as straight as he could. He had been a tanner for most of his life and his body showed the effects of numerous mishaps. His stringy black hair never grew back on the left side of his head and his skin on that side of his face still showed the scar from when he was splashed with acid. He had lost three fingers on his left hand and a large scar on his right leg prevented him from standing to his full height.
“Are you familiar with tanneries?” he asked.
She answered “No, this is the first one I have ever visited.”
“Then you should be impressed with this one. We are much more here than just a tannery. I not only employ the preparers of the raw material — the tanners, curriers, and tawers — but I also have the leather workers who make the actual objects. I have shoemakers, glovers, book binders, and saddlers as well as master armorers.”
Still holding his sack, he turned and they both walked over the bridge. He pointed to the workers at the river bank. “We tended to acquire the hides of cattle, sheep, goat and deer as a by-product of butchery, and the hooves and horns will still be attached. After the removal of the hooves and horns, the hide must be washed to remove any dung, dirt or blood present. That is what these workers are doing.”
Maylock said, “When Abraxas has been killed, I will cast a Gentle Repose spell on the body, so that it will be fresh and whole when you get it.”
“That is excellent,” Richen said. “Often when we get monster hides to process, they are in very poor condition.”
“What types of creatures have you worked on here?
“We have processed many cattle, ox, elk, buffalo, otter, moose, beaver, seals, pig, sheep, goat, horse, dog, goose, red deer, roe, wild pig, brown hare, red fox, wolf and badger. Monsters are usually individual specimens, and often I don’t know what type of monster it is. We have never processed an entire dragon, but I have tanned a fire drake hide.”
He escorted her through the open gate in the wall. The foul odor was much stronger here. She could see that most of this large area surrounded by the wall on three sides was filled with a great number of circular pits. Many of them were brightly colored. Each pit was about ten feet across and lined with stones and about half of them were empty. The stones extended up out of the ground making each pit about three feet deeper and allowing the workers easier access. The buildings all shared a wall with the exterior wall of the enclosure. They were the same height as the wall and extended across the entire north and west side of the enclosure. Some were two stories, but most consisted only of the upper story, providing a covered workspace below, supported only by the wall on one side and a series of wooden columns on the other. These were all connected by a wooden walkway above. There were stairs at several places along the walkway allowing access to the courtyard.
They walked to the cliff edge, where she could see steps down to a wooden dock. “This is where ships from as far away as the seven cities come bearing unprocessed hides and leaving with leather goods of all kinds. With all of the dragon trouble here lately, the number of ships has decreased to only one every month or so. After the attack yesterday, I am afraid there may be no more ships until the dragon is killed.”
Turning back to the pits, Maylock asked, “How exactly is the tanning done? Could you walk me through the process?”
“Of course,” Richen said as he walked her to a nearby pit. “After the skins are cleaned, the next process in the manufacture of leather requires the fat, hair and flesh to be removed. This process begins by the submergence of the hide into a urine solution like the one we have here.” Then he pointed to a man sitting on a stool with a wooden beam between his legs, one end on the stool and the other end on the ground in front of him. Over this beam was a damp hide that he was scraping with a large curved two-handled knife. “When the hair is loosened sufficiently, the hide is spread over wooden beams and both sides are scraped. The hair or grain side is scraped with a blunt single-edged unharing knife. This is also where the last of the dragon scales will be removed from the dragon hide. The flesh side is scraped with a sharper two-edged fleshing knife. After more soaking, the skin is scraped with a blunt scudding knife.”
Maylock looked a little surprised, “You don’t leave the scales attached to the dragon hide?”
“No. That is not possible,” Richen said. “Most of the scales would fall off during tanning even if we tried to keep them attached. Also the hide cannot be properly tanned and conditioned with the scales attached. But don’t worry, the scales are too valuable to be lost or damaged. They will be processed separately from the hide, sorted and graded as to size and condition. Then they can be re-attached to the hide for those items that require it, such as dragon scale armor.”
Richen walked with her over to a different vat and continued, “After the hair, or scales, are removed we soak the hide in a solution of crushed animal brains and emulsified oils, like the one here. The hide is then rewashed and the skins opened.” He then walked with her over to a different vat, where he dumped the contents of his sack. “The skins are immersed in a warm infusion of dog dung which removes the lime and gives the hide structure a softer, more flexible grain.” He smiled at her and said, “It is the nature of the materials used in these processes that make us unpleasant neighbors.”
“So that is how you tan leather?” she asked.
“No, it is only after this and after a final washing of the hides and division of the skin into its different qualities that the tanning process can begin.” He escorted her over to yet another vat. The contents of this vat were bright red and there was a worker stomping around it, up to his knees. “The hides begin by being immersed in a solution of crushed oak bark and water. Then the skins are soaked in these vats filled with natural pigments.” He pointed to other vats as he continued, “red from poppies, orange from henna, brown from cedar wood, or white from mint. They are moved around in the pits continuously to ensure an even spread of color. The workers must knead these skins by foot. Due to the constant need for the tanner to move the skins, the pits are referred to as ‘handlers.’” He then led Maylock to a group of pits near the far south wall. “Following this, the hide goes through a process of alternative layering with ground oak bark and then these pits are filled with a weak tanning solution. The length of time for this process will vary, depending on thickness of the hide, and for what purpose it was intended. The hides are often left in the solution for a year and a day.”
“You mean that it will take a year to tan the dragon’s hide?”
“Except for the thinner, lighter parts, yes. Perhaps the wing and some of the other thinner hides won’t take as long, but the process cannot be rushed, or the resulting leather will not be good.” He then walked over to a large bench. “After they are tanned, the shaved hides are once again washed clean and worked on this flat wooden bench with the stones, slickers and brushes you see hanging on the wall there to flatten the leather and stretch it. It is then stuffed or impregnated with a warm dubbin of mixed tallow and lush oils that we keep in these barrels. After the skins have been piled up to allow the fats to penetrate evenly, they are hung in this room over here.” He opened a heavy wooden door to reveal a large dark room with hides hanging from ropes strung from one side of the room to the other. “Here the surplus grease is removed. If a firm leather product is required for shoe soles, harness, or other purposes, the hides are simply left here to dry and season. If a softer, finer product is required, further operations such as ‘boarding’ are carried out.” Maylock looked at him questioningly, and he explained “That is simply rubbing it down on a smooth table.” He closed the door and continued, “The leather is then colored or the surface polished using a smooth stone.”
“If you would like to see what we can do with the leather we make, follow me.” He started up the nearest set of stairs. Maylock followed.
As they climbed the open wooden stairs, Maylock said, “Why haven’t you built your tannery of stone, and have ballista towers, like the rest of Rockport? Aren’t you afraid of dragon attacks?”
Richen answered, “Of the three times Rockport has been destroyed, Abraxas has never attacked the tannery. However, there is not much that fire can do but destroy the wall and the buildings. They can be re-built easy enough. Most everything of value here is in the pits, and they won’t burn. That is not to say that we don’t have a plan if we are attacked.” He stopped at the top of the stairs and pointed down at a heavy wood door that Maylock hadn’t noticed before. It looked like it was mounted into a stone frame that was lying on the ground next to the south wall. “That opens to our escape tunnel. It extends to a series of natural caves that open onto the side of the cliffs over the water. It is a rather easy climb up to safety from there.”
He turned and started along the walk in front of the upper buildings. “We make everything from shoes, saddles, harness, leather bottles, chests, books, coffers and containers, sheaths and belts, gloves, armor, great tankards and drinking vessels, bottles and buckets.”
Several men looked up momentarily from the tables where they were cutting sheets of leather into various shapes and designs. “This is where the final cutting is done. The correct cutting of the skin or hide provides adequately sized pieces of material of the right thickness without blemish.” He walked over to a table which had many different knives laying on it and picked up a large bladed knife. “Several kinds of knives are used for leather cutting. One of the most distinctive is this half-moon knife.”
They walked to the next building, “This is one of the assembly rooms.” There was no one in this room at the time. He walked around the room, point out various items on tables and shelves as they passed. “Leather objects are assembled by a number of techniques. Stitching is the most common. This thread is made from flax yarn rolled with beeswax. Hot animal glue is used for box covering and attaching leather to other structures. Objects such as armor, great tankards, drinking vessels, bottles and buckets are made by molding. This is done by soaking the leather in cold water until it is thoroughly saturated. It can then be modelled over molds of plaster, wood or metal.”
He took them to the next building. “This is where ornamentation is applied,” he said as he opened the door. “Ornamentation of the leatherwork is quite common. This is done in a variety of ways. Incising with blunt or sharp tools. Punching or stamping with a variety of iron and bronze tools. Stamping is used widely in book binding. Modeling, to leave the important features in low relief. Embossing, which is performed with a ball tool from the backside of the leather.” He pointed out the various tools as he described them.
He opened a door to another room in this building. There were tables and many brushes and pots. There were various colored stains on the tables and floor. “The final process for many objects is adding decoration with colored dyes and paints. Some small sections may even receive gold leaf, which is adhered to the surface under the heat and pressure of this book-binding tool.”
They left that building and continued on. “This next building is our kitchen. You are welcome to join us for lunch.”
“I am afraid that I have lost my appetite for some reason,” Maylock said from behind her scented scarf.
“No one ever wants to eat with me,” Richen said with a grin. “I don’t suppose that I can blame you. Most of the workers here prefer to wait until they get away from here before they eat. It takes a long time to grow accustomed to the smell. It even keeps the rats away. I hardly notice it anymore.” They came to the last building. “This is my office. Come in and we can discuss any issues, or questions you may have.” He held open the door and Maylock glided in.
His office was spacious and had large windows that could overlook the yard below. There was a large, leather topped desk, and several chairs made from horns and antlers, upholstered in the finest leather. To one side there was a wooden frame that contained the preserved skin of a fire drake. This was complete with outstretched wings and complete head. “I am quite proud of that one,” said Richen as he sat down behind his desk “The owner has never returned to collect it. I am afraid he may have come to an untimely death. Such is the fate of many an adventurer.” He paused to allow Maylock to examine his trophy. “Would you be interested in purchasing this perhaps? I can let you have it at a preferred client price.”
“I am not here to talk about fire drakes, but red dragons,” Maylock said. “I am satisfied that you can handle the dragon’s hide, but there is much more to be considered when dealing with the carcass of a colossal red dragon.”
Maylock motioned to one of the chairs and it moved to a position across the desk from Richen. She settled into it and said, “It will all depend upon how much damage is done to the body before it is killed. For now, let’s assume the best.” Richen nodded and Maylock continued, “I have determined, conservatively, that a properly preserved and carefully processed Colossal Dragon should be able to provide a minimum of 8 vials of Blood, 4 vials of Stomach Acid, 3 vials of Gall, 3 vials of musk, 8 sets of scale male sized for medium sized creatures and 16 shields. The armor created has no special properties other than being extremely tough and its masterwork quality. However, a spell caster with the proper Dragoncrafter training can imbue even greater powers into the armor. The carcass can provide not only armor, but also weapons, rings, rods, staffs, and other wondrous items created from various dragon parts.”
“Now let’s discuss each of the major parts in detail.”
“Fine,” said Richen as he noticed a black rat’s nose twitching as it poked out from one of Maylock’s large sleeves.
“First the head,” Maylock said. “Skulls are more expensive than any other bone inside a dragon’s body, believed to be the seat of their intelligence and spellcasting power, not to mention that there is only one per dragon. If the skull is too badly damaged to sell intact, you should carefully remove each of the teeth, to be fashioned into weapons or sold separately. The brain (which is surprisingly small), eyes, and tong must each be carefully removed and preserved. If the head is in reasonably good condition, the church requires that it be mounted on its skull for display in a location of their choosing. You must carefully remove and tan the skin. All of the larger scales must be removed and carefully marked so they can be re-attached in their original locations. The same goes for all of the horns and spines. Plaster can then be added to the skull where needed before gluing the skin back in place and re-attaching the scales and horns. Perhaps glass eyes and a replica tong can be added, if we can find someone with the proper skill to create these.”
“I know just the man to create those,” said Richen.
“Good,” said Maylock. “Now special care must be taken with the eyes. Dragons tend to lose the pupil as they age, turning into glowing slits of molten metal. The eye of a dragon can be turned into a powerful scrying device or become the ingredient of items that bestow the user with the dragon’s acute and supernatural senses. Even as baubles, dragon eyes are impressive to behold, and are among the most expensive ingredients found in dragoncraft.”
“Dragon tongues are a soft yet extremely tough material, for they must withstand the dragon’s breath weapon while still serving as a very sensitive sensory organ. The tongue is an organ heavily laden with magical energies as the dragon uses it for spellcasting. It also resonates strongly with the energy type of a dragon’s breath, which makes it useful for items that grant an attack with or protection from that energy type, fire in this case.”
“Next let’s discuss the neck,” she said. “A dragon’s neck is not as useful as other parts of the body, mostly salvageable for the spine, bony ridges, crest and flesh. Red dragons have the organs for their breath weapon located in the neck, so that must be removed and preserved.”
“After that comes the dragon’s torso. This contains the bulk of usable hide, the largest scales, the thickest part of the spine and ridges and last but not least, the internal organs. It also contains the powerful musculature that moves the wings and limbs. The internal organs found in the torso of a dragon vary in size and function, not to mention the prices they accrue. Hearts are perhaps the most coveted of a dragon’s internal organs but you can also find good use for the liver, lungs and stomach of a dragon. The liver can be used for Dahak’s fire, a volatile alchemical reagent. Their stomach acids are powerful and could be used for quite a few things. All of these things must be carefully removed and preserved. I will be here to direct and help with magics where required.”
“I will be glad for the help,” Richen said. “I have been offered the assistance of every butcher in Rockport, but they have limited knowledge of internal organs.”
“Continuing on,” said Maylock. “The dragon’s extremities are extremely valuable as well. They contain the strongest and largest bones in a dragon’s body, suitable to be made into weapons or even building materials. The muscles and sinews are also very strong. The paws of a dragon are nimble and strong. The bones are well suited for crafting small magical items.”
“The tail suffers from much of the same stigma as the neck, except that it has no internal organs apart from the musculature and the skeleton. The muscles are, however, as strong as those from the limbs”
“Dragon wings are mainly exploited for their leathery spans, used to craft clothing and sometimes leather armor. The ‘fingers’ that hold the wings together serve the same purpose as the fingers from the paws. A dragon wing can be rendered flexible enough to wear as a cloak, but on older dragons it often has many large holes and scars.”
“You mentioned the blood,” said Richen. “We normally just drain it all and wash it away. Is it worth trying to save some?”
Maylock could hardly believe he was asking this question. “Of course you must save as much as possible. The blood of dragons is said to have powerful properties. It can be used as the component of potions and unguents. It could also be smeared over any other kind of magic item, along with the proper incantation, to imbue it with a portion of the dragon’s nature. Common folk believe that bathing in red dragon’s blood can bestow upon someone a gift of protection against weapons or the dragon’s fire breath. This may not be true, but it is a common belief.”
She realized that she needed to go into as much detail as possible, so she continued, “The hide, of course, has many uses. The most obvious use for dragonhide is the crafting of armor and shields but several other types of worn magical items can be made from dragon hide.”
“The bones must all be saved. They have many uses depending on the caster who gets his hands on them and even the kind of bones they are. They can be used as the frame for a magical item, powdered into spell components or ingredients for balms, potions, inks and other minor but not less powerful items. A weaponsmith could craft the bone of a dragon into the haft of a weapon or even fashion it into a weapon itself. Dragon knuckles have been known to serve as scrying and fortune-telling devices, while the bones from the limbs of great wyrms are a much coveted architectural material.”
“The softer tissue must also all be saved. The softer tissue of a dragon’s body has more value than its bones, as it decays quickly unless magically treated. Construct builders can use a dragon’s flesh to create very strong golems, although it could also serve well as an offering to summoned outsiders, particularly to those of evil inclinations. The sinews and ligaments have proven to be extremely strong and make for very good ropes, cords, belts and similar items. It is said that nothing can escape from a net of dragon sinews, and a bowstring of dragon tendons can surpass the strength capabilities of a mighty bow. Dragon flesh must be cured or kept fresh before it decays, or it becomes worthless. The torso and tail provide most of the meet. There is no recorded benefits from eating dragon meet, but it always sales at a premium because of its rarity. Selling dragon meet for consumption is extremely insulting to dragonkind, so care should be taken to keep secret the identity of those who purchase it.”
“The dragon’s ‘pointy bits’, the claws, teeth, bony ridges and horns are ideal for making weapons, although they also see use as charms and ornaments for wizards’ staves. The horns are also the best part of a dragon to build blowing horns to summon and/or control dragons, although smaller specimens find their way to a fighter’s helm all too frequently.”
“We discussed scales earlier, and I must stress the need to save and preserve as many of them as possible. Dragon scales vary in size according to the part of the body where they are taken from, not to mention the size of the dragon in question. A single scale may be fashioned into amulets or small carvings, or a collection can be used to make armor.”
“Yes,” said Richen. “And any remnants that are not of a quality to be sold to users of magic, or to the trades, can be sold to the common people. Some popular beliefs are that dragon liver can cure a cold, dragon powder grows hair, with dragon blood you’ll never grow old, dragon cartilage keeps you thin, dragon fat is for burns, and that a dragon tear will clear up your skin.”
Maylock objected, saying “magical and alchemical study has not confirmed the truth of any of these.”
“No,” said Richen. “But they can be exploited in the sale of these items to the uneducated.”
Maylock stood and her chair moved back out of her way. “I believe the dragon body will be in good hands here with you. You can rest assured that I will give you a good report to the church elders when I meet with.”
Richen rose and said, “It was a pleasure to have met you.”
With that Maylock and Bedřich left the tannery and returned to Rockport.
Olorry Gleamheart referred to his adventuring group as “The Military Sodality of Crossbowmen, Archers, Swordsmen, Clerics and Wizards of the First Order Dedicated to Serving the Deity Heironeous with a Will of Iron” – or simply the “Iron Sodality.” At this time his group consisted of 4 people. There was Olorry himself, of course, who was known to all as Sir Gleamheart, first paladin of Heironeous. There was also the cleric of Heironeous whose name was Pitchlight, the mysterious female Half -elf Wizard, Maylock, and Sir Gleamheart’s oldest friend, a rogue named Shaster Carter that some still referred to by his old nickname “Pickman.” The Iron Sodality had spent the last several years adventuring on the high seas where they traveled from port to port fighting pirates, monsters, and combating enemies of the faith. Now that they had returned to their home port to lead a quest to defeat the dragon Abraxas they were experiencing a major setback. The dragon’s attack on the town left their expedition short on people, equipment and funds.
After rallying their remaining forces and evaluating their situation, each of the four members of their group went off in a different direction. Each had a separate task that needed to be done as quickly as possible.
Shaster, the green caped rogue, went down to the docks, to their ship, the Deadwater Bay. There were only a few ships still docked where there had been at least a dozen two days earlier. The wet wood of the docks was littered with ropes, boards and the scattered remains of broken crates and torn nets. The ship docked at the next pier had been burned by the dragon. It was still afloat but had burned nearly to the water line before the fire had been put out. An old man with gray hair and scraggly gray beard was standing on the pier and calling out instructions to the three bare-chested sailors that were in the process of dismantling and removing the charred main mast from the ships burned middeck.
“Mister Rashid!” Shaster called out to the old man as he approached. “Mister Rashid!” he called out again as he got a little closer.
The old man heard him this time, “Boss!” he answered as he waved to the rogue. Aram Rashid was the Deadwater Bay’s carpenter and he had always referred to all 4 of the adventures that owned the ship as Boss. It was commonly thought by the crew that he simply never bothered to learn their names. “Watch your step Boss. Don’t trip on that breast line.”
“What are you doing over here?” Shaster asked with a smile. “Have you run out of repairs to do on your own ship?”
“No sir Boss,” he said while guiding the sailors to position the removed mast on sawhorses that were positioned on the dock to receive it. “You know that I have been needing to replace my topmast ever since that Kraken gave it a twist. It hasn’t set true since then.” As he talked he walked to one end of the mast bending down, looking along its length and gently rolling it right and left. “This ship’s captain was killed in the attack and the harbor master says that we can help ourselves to any salvage we want off of her,” he said. “This should do just fine. It is of a fine, old growth oak and has a dense strong core. It is charred but it is straight and the core is unharmed. I can plane off the charred wood and trim it to length. What good luck.”
“I doubt that that ship’s captain would have seen it that way. How soon can you have all the repairs done sufficient to sail?”
“I can have this shaped and installed by day’s end. There are no other repairs needed that would keep us from sailing at first light tomorrow. I was hoping that we could stay long enough to remove most of the barnacles from the hull. Are we leaving port soon? I thought you had a dragon to catch.”
“I need to talk to Captain Casey first. Just don’t delay any repairs and stay close.”
The familiar voice of his ship’s first mate called from the other side of the pier, from the rigging of the Deadwater Bay, “Ahoy Mister Carter!”
As Shaster turned to look in that direction a shadow passed over him and a large harry ape-like creature landed on the pier beside him. They clasped each other’s forearms in friendly greeting. Shaster said “Hello, Garsh. How’s the ship?” His ship’s first mate was an Hadozee. He had glided down by means of his patagium, a furry parachute-like membrane that stretched from wrist to ankle.
Garsh said, “Captain had us stow all the sails and most of the rigging below decks. On account of possible fire breath attacks don’t you see? The men are just now stowing the last of the canvas. Will you be coming aboard now sir?”
As he turned to walk toward his ship, Shaster said “Yes, I need to talk to the captain as soon as possable.” Garsh grabbed him with one great harry arm around the waist and dived with him over the edge of the pier. He grabbed a line with his other hand and they both swung in a wide loop down and then up over the gunwale. Shaster’s big floppy hat flew off but Garsh Caught it with his hand-like foot and they landed safely on the quarterdeck. Shaster snatched his hat and started to yell at Garsh, “Don’t ever …” when his boots were splashed with a bucket of water.
A startled sailor with an empty water bucket in his hands said, “I am so sorry sir! I didn’t see you there until it was too late to stop. The captain is having us wet down the decks twice every hour. That is so the ship won’t catch fire if the dragon comes back.”
Garsh said, “You said you were in a hurry.” Then he jumped from board to boom to half-mast and away through the rigging he went.
Shaster just turned and stomped down to the captain’s cabin. When he entered, the captain looked up from his desk. “What happened to you?” he asked with a bit of a chuckle. “Fall overboard?”
“It was Garsh,” Shaster said as he flopped down into the large padded chair that sat across from the desk. Then he noticed that the big feather in his hat was totally soaked. “What are we going to do about that Hadozee? He has no respect for a man’s dignity.” He poured himself a drink from the cut glass bottle sitting on a small table next to his chair.
“No, but he is the best damned sailor I have ever seen. I wouldn’t trade one of him for four more ‘civilized’ first mates. You know for yourself that he spends ninety percent of his time climbing around in the rigging, and the sailors all have his respect.” The captain walked over and poured himself a drink. “You didn’t leave the drinking parlors and gambling halls of town to talk about Garsh. What business brings you to my ship this time of day?” Although, technically, the Deadwater Bay was owned jointly by the four members of the Iron Sodality, as its captain, Casey Shearwater always referred to it as his ship. He never cared for his last name and when introduced to strangers he always said, “You can call me Captain or you can call me Casey or you can call me Captain Casey, but don’t call me Shearwater.”
Shaster took a sip of his drink. I was a dark brown liquor they had picked up at their last port, and he had become quite fond of it. “Olorry said I was to have you take the ship out, away from Rockport until the dragon is dealt with. He gives orders like the rest of us were his crew rather than his partners. But he is right about this. We won’t be needing it for at least a month, maybe more.” He took another sip and continued, “He is afraid that if the dragon finds out that we own this ship he will come after it.”
The songbird in the corner was anxiously walking back and forth on his perch, trying to get the captain’s attention. Captain Casey pulled some seeds from his vest pocket and walked over to the bird, “Settle down Yasha. You would think that I never fed you.” As the songbird ate the seeds from his hand he said, “With the Iron Sodality’s permission, I should like to take the ship on the magic ice run.”
“You have been trying to get us to make that run for as long as I have known you. Do you think the crew is up to it without our protection?”
“With all due respect, you helped select these sailors as much for their fighting ability as for their seamanship. Some didn’t know a bowline from a half hitch when they signed on. As to their fighting ability, they have proven that several times over. I expect we can take on whatever we come across without the four of you keeping us safe.”
“I guess that is true enough,” said Shaster. “Tell me again about the magic ice run. How does that go exactly?”
“As I’ve said before, first we load up with all of the metal items we can get. The cinnamon islands don’t have any metal, and they don’t get many trade ships because they are surrounded by dangerous waters and monsters. I will have to buy all of the pots and pans, axes, knives, nails, and everything else made of metal that I can find.”
“What kind of monsters?”
“There are tells of dragon turtles, but there are definitely sirens. But the monsters are only half the problem. There are no natural harbors, and the entire coastline is rocky cliffs. We will have to anchor a way off shore and take the small boat in. We can trade the metal items for a big load of spices. They have cinnamon of course, but also pepper, dragon tongue and many other rare and exotic spices. Once we leave there, if we avoid the pirates, we will sail straight to North Icely. The timing is good because their ice pack should just now be clearing.”
He fed Yasha some more seeds and continued, “North Icely trades mostly in timber and precious stones, but for pepper and spices, they will trade for magic ice.”
Shaster set down his glass and tried to knock the water off his hat and feather. “Didn’t you say that the ice isn’t truly magical?”
“That’s right. The story is that they discovered it a few years ago in one of their ruby mines. At first they thought it was just a frozen underground river.”
“What makes it so special?”
“They say that it is so cold that if you touch it with your ungloved hand it burns like fire. Also it doesn’t melt into water but slowly gets smaller as it melts leaving only cold air. A small piece of it in water doesn’t float. It pops and crackles and the water boils creating steam as if it were over a fire, but instead of being hot, the water is made cold. Small amounts of water poured over a large amount of the magic ice freezes into normal ice. But mages have examined it and say that it has no detectable magical properties.”
Shaster said, “That sounds amazing, and dangerous. How will you haul it?”
Captain Casey walked back over to his desk, “They dig it out of the ground like they would stone. We will line our hull with hay and cover that with sand. The magic ice will go over that and then we will cover it with another layer of sand and hay. There should be no danger as long as we wear gloves when we handle it. The next part of our voyage will be to make our way to the Port of Sultans by the great desert. It is early enough in the year that if we get there fast enough we will have not lost more than half of the magic ice from melting. Of course we risk losing it all if we are delayed. Here, I’ll show you course I plan to take.”
The captain cleared off his desk and unrolled a map of the North Sea. As the captain traced his intended course with his finger he said, “The Sultans will pay a great sum for the magic ice. We have been told that they store it in abandoned water wells. We should return here in about two months with our coffers full of gold. We will, of course, split the profit with the ship’s owners.”
Shaster thought for a minute, then looked up at the captain and smiled. “How soon can you leave?”
“It will take a day to acquire the metal trade goods and provision for the trip. The ship repairs and re-rigging should be completed at the same time. We can leave port the day after tomorrow.”
“And how long will you be away?”
“The entire round trip should not take over eight weeks.”
“Good,” said Shaster. “Do it. The other 3 will come aboard this evening to fetch their gear, or send someone for it. Don’t mention the magic ice run to them. Just say that you have agreed to stay away for a few weeks, to keep the ship out of danger. We will surprise them when you return with your coffers full.” He shook the captain’s hand, donned his soggy hat, and left the captain’s cabin with a spring in his step and smile on his face. Having done his assigned chore for the day, he intended to spend the rest of his day drinking, gambling and flirting with the bar maids. Perhaps someone would be foolish enough to pick a fight with him. He hadn’t fought a proper duel in over a year now and thought it about time for another.
Here is a fillable version of my Animal Companion / Familiar Sheet.
The original version (here) has been my most popular post. I have received request for a fillable version and I recently got the software to make that possible. I even included a modest amount of math, so it calculates the bonuses based on the ability scores you enter..
D&D Next is the play test version of the next (v5) version of D&D. It addresses many of the issues I have with v3.5 (I never cared for v4).
D&D Lite is a set of “House Rules” that I have published here, that are intended to simplify and speed up play of v3.5 D&D.
D&D Lite was designed to meet the following criteria:
1. “Character creation and promotion should be simple, fast and easy.” – D&D Next does this, and also provides a lot of customization options at character creation for those who want it.
2. “The rule set should be fully compatible with other v3.5 stuff (adventures, sourcebooks, etc).” – D&D Next is not fully compatible. It feels a lot like a streamlined and improved version of v3.5. It should be very easy to convert adventures or other game materials from 3rd edition D&D to D&D Next.
3. “Complicated rules should be simplified to the point where you can play 90% of the time without having to look up a rule.” – D&D Next nails this. The rules are much simpler than 3rd edition D&D.
Below are some D&D Lite rules followed by comments on how D&D Next addresses these issues.
D&D Lite: No Multiclass characters.
D&D Next: Multiclass characters are optional. By frontloading the character creation you can get pretty much any type of character you want to play without multiclassing.
My thoughts: I had to restrict multiclassing in order to eliminate feats. D&D Next accomplishes what I was after without restricting character development. I like it.
D&D Lite: No Feats.
D&D Next: Feats are optional. If you do use them, you get to choose one feat at level 1, 3, 6, and 9 for a total of 4 feats.
My thoughts: My problem with feats is that there were too many of them and they over complicated the game. I can live with characters having 4 feats.
D&D Lite: No selection and distribution of Skill Points.
D&D Next: No skill points. Your character starts with four skills of your choice, from a much shorter list of skills. At levels 7, 12 and 17 you can add one more skill or improve one you already have. All skill checks are ability checks. If you happen to have the skill involved, you add 1d6 to your d20 die roll.
My thoughts: I wanted to get rid of skill points, but I couldn’t do it and still use 3.5 rules. This new way of dealing with skills addresses all of the issues I had with them. I like it.
D&D Lite: No Armor or Weapon Proficiencies.
D&D Next: Your character is proficient with certain weapons and armor depending on his class. Using weapons he is not proficient with is done at a disadvantage.
My thoughts: While not as simple as my system, it is much simpler than the 3.5 system, and the weapons are either simple or martial. This is very workable, fast and easy. I like it.
D&D Lite: No separate rules for Bull rush, Disarm, Overrun, Sunder, Grapple or Trip. To accomplish any of these you use a “heroic action”.
D&D Next: You can attempt any of these as an improvised action. Some classes are especially good at Bull rush, Disarm, and Trip. The rules for grapple have been greatly simplified.
My thoughts: D&D Next “improvised actions” are almost identical to D&D Lite’s “heroic actions”. How could I complain about that? I like it.
D&D Lite: No Attacks of Opportunity.
D&D Next: Attacks of Opportunity are almost eliminated. D&D Next reduces them to only be used if a hostile creature that you can see moves out of our reach.
Mt thoughts: To get rid of attacks of opportunity I had to require a heroic action to do anything that would provoke one. Dropping them altogether and still not allowing you to simply run past the guards with impunity is a good move. I like it.
D&D Lite: Simplified the rules for Turn Undead.
D&D Next: Simplified the rules for Turn Undead.
Mt thoughts: I tried to keep the results about the same as standard 3.5 rules. D&D Next just came up with a much simpler solution. I like it.
D&D Lite: Dropped the rules for nonlethal damage and implemented a simpler solution.
D&D Next: Dropped the rules for nonlethal damage and implemented a simpler solution.
My thoughts: D&D Next’s solution is simpler than D&D Lite’s solution. I like it.
D&D Lite: Character alignment is optional. There are no alignment related game rules or effects.
D&D Next: Character alignment is an important aspect of the game.
My thoughts: This was one of the hardest changes to implement in D&D Lite. I made this change primarily because of some unbalanced spells, such as “detect evil”, but the concept of good vs. evil and chaotic vs. lawful is so ingrained into D&D I was considering changing this. D&D Next corrects this at the source, by re-writing the spells so “detect evil”, for example, becomes “detect good or evil” and instead of allowing you to “sense the presence of evil” you “perceive a strong concentration of good or evil as well as creatures formed by them”. This is a subtle but important difference. I like it.
D&D Lite: Each of the classes has specific abilities (like feats) that they receive at pre-determined class levels, thus eliminating the need for feats.
D&D Next: Does the same thing, but offers more options in the form of backgrounds and sub-classes.
My thoughts: Thisallows the player to customize his character more than allowed in D&D Lite. I like it.
Conclusion: If they don’t mess it up, D&D v5 should be the game that I was hoping v4 would have been. I will quit using D&D Lite and whole heartedly endorse v5.
LONG LIVE DOUNGEONS AND DRAGONS!
Download a free copy of this advanture here [Fires of Hell].
This adventure takes place after a Total Party Kill (TPK). I modified an old AD&D adventure (The Fires of Dis) to accomoate a group of DEAD PCs to earn a second chance by … well you will see.
It is a version 3.5 D&D adventure for a party of any size and any level (1 to 20).
Let me know what you think about it.
In the stat block below np = number of packs in the swarm. A pack contains 30 rats. The number of packs in the swarm determines the Challenge Rating (divide the total number of rats by 30). If “np” is preceded by a number, multiply the number of packs in the swarm by that number. For example where it says Listen = +3 np; If there are 6 packs (180 rats) in the swarm then Listen will =+18 (3×6).
CRANIUM RAT SWARM (CR = np) – NE Diminutive Magical Beast (Extraplanar, Swarm) (FF p.167 – modified)
DETECTION – Senses Darkvision 60-ft; Listen +3 Packs, Spot +3 Packs; Init +7; Languages Cranium rats do not speak, but swarms containing 5 or more packs can communicate telepathically.
DEFENSES – AC 14 (+3 Dex, +1 natural), Touch 13, Flat Footed 11; hp 18 np; Resist cold 10
ACTIONS – Spd 40 ft., climb 20 ft.; Melee Swarm (3d6); Space 5 ft. (1 pack), 10 ft. (2 to 10 packs), 15 ft.(11 to 20 packs) ; Reach 0 ft.; Base Atk 2 ½ np; Grapple -; SA Distraction, mind blast, spells
SQ hive mind, low-light vision, swarm traits, telepathy
STR 2, DEX 17, CON 14, INT 2 np (max 20), WIS 14, CHA 13
FORT np+3 (max 16), REF np+4 (max 19), WILL np+2 (max 12)
FEATS – Alertness, Combat Casting, Iron Will
SKILLS – Climb +3 np, Listen +3 np, Spot +3 np, (if the number of packs in the swarm is 10 or more add: Balance +29, Concentration +29, Sense Motive +31)
Spells: If the swarm’s np (number of packs) is 4 or less its intelligence is too low to cast spells. Larger swarms can cast arcane spells as a sorcerer of a level equal to the swarm’s np up to a maximum 10th-level sorcerer (spells/day and spells known are the same as for a sorcerer of the appropriate level; save DC is 10+ the sorcerer level + spell level). A typical 10th-level spells known list: 0—dancing lights, daze, detect magic, flare, ghost sound, mage hand, open/close, prestidigitation, grease; 1st— charm person, expeditious retreat, magic missile, ray of enfeeblement, shocking grasp; 2nd—blur, knock, mirror image, see invisibility; 3rd—fireball, lightning bolt, slow; 4th—contagion, fire shield; 5th—hold monster.
Distraction (Ex): Any living creature that begins its turn with a swarm in its space must succeed on a Fortitude save or be nauseated for 1 round. The save DC is Constitution-based. DC 15 for np of 4 or less, DC 18 for np 5 to 9, DC 24 for np 10 or more.
Mind Blast (Su): This attack is a 60-foot cone. Anyone caught in this cone must succeed on a Will save (DC 14 for np of 4 or less, DC 17 for np 5 to 9, DC 23 for np 10 or more) or be stunned for 3d4 rounds. A cranium rat swarm with 4 or less packs can use this power every 2 rounds. Larger swarms can use it at will.
Hive Mind (Ex): A cranium rat swarm has a hive mind, which makes it susceptible to mind-affecting spells. For purposes of such spells, the swarm is a single creature of the magical beast type.
Telepathy (Su): An swarm of cranium rats that contain 5 or more packs can communicate telepathically with any creature within 80 feet that has a language.
Skills: Cranium rat swarms have a +8 racial bonus on Climb checks and can always choose to take10 on Climb checks, even if rushed or threatened.
Combat: While dangerous and unpleasant, cranium rats are not aggressive creatures. They avoid open attacks in favor of flight or ambushes. Cranium rats use their spells and mind blast ability to soften or incapacitate victims before swarming over them, then they drain their victims’ blood through a hundred tiny wounds.
Like ten thousand eyes and ears dispatched to gather secrets for some dark deity of knowledge, cranium rats are everywhere—seeing, hearing, and sharing what they learn in a bizarre hive mind.
An individual cranium rat is almost indistinguishable from a normal rodent, except that a portion of its large brain is exposed and pulses with a soft glow. Singly, the creatures are also virtually identical to normal rats, but they are never encountered singly. A pack of cranium rats has a group mind—and the more rats, the more intelligent the group mind.
What happens after a TPK (Total Party Kill)? With the Dungeons and Dragons game, it happens from time to time. When it has happened in my games, it was usually due to something that I, as the DM, did wrong. “I really thought that the party would run away from that monster.” -or- “Who would have thought that they would all fail their saving throws?” Whatever the cause, looking back it was usually something that I should have realized was a possibility and headed off before it was too late for the players.
I know that some DMs have more TPKs than I do, and that is just fine. Many games fall apart after a TPK, but sometimes it comes at the dramatic conclusion of an adventure. There have been times that I just did a little DM “hand waving” and stated that that didn’t just happen, and all of the PCs were not dead after all.
That last option was the most unsatisfactory option of all. It was usually after the players were really upset and felt that the situation that resulted in the TPK was unfair.
This got me thinking of a better “in game” way to handle the situation. (This may only work once, but TPK’s aren’t all that common.) What if, after they all dye, they wake up in Hell and go on a short adventure to earn their way back to life?
I am working on just such an adventure and will post it here when it’s done. Here it is: Fires of Hell
Gimble had been staying in an ally where he had stashed his carpet bag. Just before dark, he retrieved it before he and Trevan went to the inn where Trevan had been staying. Most of the front wall was missing and a little smoke was still escaping in a few places. There was an old halfling stationed at the door. He was informing everyone that walked up that they were only serving drinks with meals and those were only available if you stood at the bar. The tables were all too badly damaged. There were no rooms available, but if you had a room already, they were not damaged by the fire.
They had fish soup at the bar. Gimble had to stand on a block of stone that had been part of the front wall. They were served by the halflings that had brought Trevan his bath yesterday. Buxter, the half-orc owner, was sweeping up the rubble. After eating they went to Trevan’s room. He was not surprised that Aramil had not yet arrived. The window had been left open to help clear the smoke. The smell of wood smoke and sulfur still lingered in the air. Gimble bedded down on the floor beside Trevan’s bed.
About an hour before sunrise, Trevan and Gimble were awakened by Aramil, saying that they didn’t have time to waste if they were going to get to the warehouse by sunup. Aramil was already dressed and waited patiently while Trevan and Gimble got ready. They talked about the dragon attacks yesterday. Aramil had helped with a fire at one of the towers. Abraxas knocked the top of off the tower and destroyed the ballista. The tower top landed in the street and crushed a passing merchant. Abraxas breathed fire down into the opening he had made. The tower was a total loss, but they were able to prevent the fire from spreading to adjacent buildings. Trevan and Gimble told him about the dragon attack at the warehouse.
They ate a quick breakfast and headed toward the warehouse. On the way, Aramil told Trevan about the planned quest and the scouts’ part in it. “The rout to the base of Fire Mountain is well known. It has been known for centuries that Abraxas has his lair somewhere in that mountain. It is a large semi-active volcano within the Black Mountains. To get there we will take the north road into the mountains, past the freehold of Neverwild up to the Dwarven mine of Clearwater. From there we follow old dwarfen and elfin paths through the mountains until we reach Fire Mountain.”
“The scouts are to go ahead,” he said. “We can travel a lot faster than the main party, who will be slowed by the wagons. Our task for the first part of the quest will be to inform them of any obstacles or dangers that may lie ahead. Sir Gleamheart made it very clear that he didn’t expect the scouts to clear away any monsters, but simply to keep the main group informed as to the road conditions ahead and possibly recommend alternate routs if necessary. A camp will be established at the base of Fire Mountain and the scouts, along with other groups as may be assigned for the purpose, will then locate the entrance to the dragon’s lair. Sir Gleamheart will determine the appropriate tactics for combating Abraxas, based on conditions at the time. After killing Abraxas, everyone will participate in loading his horde onto the wagons and they will be divided as you were previously told.”
“How far away is this Fire Mountain?”
“About three weeks travel by wagon. An elf on foot could be there in five days.”
“A gnome could make it in four,” said Gimble.
“A hollow boast,” said Aramil. “If I am not mistaken, you have never been to Fire Mountain.”
“No, but I’ll bet that I can beat you to the warehouse!” He took off running down the center of the street, dodging a vender that was setting up his cart for selling leather goods, ducking under the cart and narrowly missing a young girl carrying a large basket of bread. Aramil looked up at the sky. It was turning from indigo to a clear light blue and becoming much brighter. “We should hurry, the sun is just rising.” With this the elf and the young ranger began to run down the road in pursuit of the gnome. They caught up with him just as they reached the warehouse.
. . .
A small crowd had gathered at the front of the warehouse. The courtyard was filled with men in armor, stable boys, merchants, curious children and onlookers of all sorts. Everyone seamed to be standing around in groups of two of three, just waiting. As Trevan, Aramil and Gimble approached they saw the people on the far side of the courtyard quickly moving to the side as a procession approached from the dock side. It was lead by four on horseback and followed closely by a dozen or so on foot.
Sir Gleamheart was mounted on a large pure-white warhorse whose long white main and tail were bouncing as the fiery stallion pranced forward. Sparks flew from his hooves as they struck the cobblestones. The horse was dressed in the finest steel armor. His rider was dressed in full plate mail complete with gauntlets and full helmet. The morning sun reflected brightly off Sir Gleamheart’s polished shield and armor. A long blue and white banner was streaming from the tip of the lance. The symbol of Heironeous was proudly embroidered on the chest of his tunic and enameled onto his shield.
Beside Sir Gleamheart rode the cleric Pitchlight. In contrast to the paladin’s stallion, the cleric’s horse was a smaller and more sedate black gelding. This muscular horse was obviously bread for speed. It’s main and tell were cut short and it was draped in white and blue barding. Pitchlight was in chainmail from neck to foot. He had a large silver holy symbol set with several rubies hanging from his neck and was calling for everyone to clear the way.
Behind the cleric was the wizard Maylock. She rode on a brown pony with no reigns or halter. She sat upright with her arms inside her coat. She appeared to be controlling her horse by her thoughts alone.
Next to her rode Pickman on his horse, a courser that appeared to be a swift and strong dappled horse with light tack and saddle. He was wearing a large floppy hat with a large feather and a green cape. As they rode up he was smiling and chatting with several of the crowd that was following along side. When Sir Gleamheart stopped at the edge of the courtyard Pickman hopped off his horse and walked to the other side to an apple cart. He flipped a copper piece to the merchant and set cross-legged on the cobblestones. He leaned back against the wheel of the cart and began pealing the apple with his dagger as he waited for the paladin to speak.
The others pulled up beside the stallion as an aid took Sir Gleamheart’s lance. He removed his gauntlets and handed them to another aid. He carefully removed his helmet and with a flick of his head his golden hair tumbled perfectly to his shoulders. Trevan rubbed his hand over his own face feeling his beard’s morning stubble as he looked at Sir Gleamheart’s perfectly shaven face. All activity ceased. All eyes turned to watch. All ears listened intently. Sir Gleamheart looked at them all and when he spoke each man felt as if he were speaking directly to him.
“You are aware of the terrible events that befell Rockport last night. Indeed, you may have been directly affected by the tragedy. I greave for the fallen and their families.” After a pause and a slight shake of his head he continued, “The town will be rebuilt. The wounds will heal. The widows and orphans will be cared for. And the dead shall be revenged!” This was greeted with a round of cheers from all.
Gleamheart continued, “The evil red dragon, this cowardly worm named Abraxas, has caused a delay in the start of our quest, but in this unprovoked attack he has only strengthened our resolve!” More cheers. “As soon as we replenish our supplies we shall travel to Fire Mountain and destroy him where he hides. We will then take the treasure he has been stealing from the people of this land for centuries and use it to build Rockport into the world class seaport it of right should be, and would be if not for his unremitting threat to our safety. Farmers will then be free to return to the fields. Chops will flourish. Livestock will once again grow fat on the land and springtime will be blessed with new life as it was intended. The markets will be filled with produce, meat, fish, honey, milk, grain and fruit from our abundant fields. Your money pouch will be heavy with coins and gems from trade when ships come laden with the finest cloth and manufactured goods. Within a few years there will be an influx of artisans and manufacturers of all kinds. Rockport will become known to all as she is known to us. A place of natural beauty with an abundance of natural resources and, most of all, a safe place filled with friendly, hard working people. As soon as the threat of Abraxas is removed, this will again be a wonderful place to raise your families.” Gleamheart again paused and smiled as everyone cheered.
When everyone had settled down he continued, “Thank all of you for your support. Now I need to talk just to those of you who have signed on to be a part of the church sponsored quest. Would you please gather around me here. If there are any others who would like to join the quest, Pitchlight would like to talk to you. Additional positions are now available. I thank the rest of you again. Please disperse now and tell all of your friends and neighbors what you heard here this morning. Thank you.” A couple of aids helped him to dismount as a handful of people came closer and the rest of the crowd slowly left the courtyard.
“First I need to talk to the scouts,” he said. Trevan and Aramil walked over to him with Gimble close behind. Trevan looked around for the rest of the scouts and saw that no one else was joining them.
Aramil said, “Sir Gleamheart, this is Trevan.”
Trevan extended his hand. “It’s good to meet you.”
With a broad smile, Gleamheart took his hand with both of his and said, “So this is the young ranger that can track dragons through the air?” While shaking Trevan’s hand as if he were his long lost brother, he looked straight into his eyes. Somehow, looking into Gleamheart’s crystal blue eyes filled Trevan with a courage he had never felt before. At that moment, he knew that he would follow this man through the gates of hell. He had never met anyone with more charisma. Gleamheart then noticed Aramil looking around for the other scouts. His face grew somber as he released Trevan’s hand and placed a hand on Aramil’s shoulder and on Trevan’s as well. “I am afraid you are the only two scouts we have left. One died last night and the clerics were unable to resurrect him. The other three came to me last night and returned their coins. I must ask each of you now, as I will ask the others who remain, are you sure you want to continue on this quest? There will be no dishonor in resigning.”
“Yes, of course!” Trevan exclaimed. “It is the reason I came here. I will track down and kill this dragon on my own if necessary!”
“That’s the kind of enthusiasm I like to hear!” Sir Gleamheart replied. “And what about you, Aramil? Are you still committed to the cause?”
“I am.” he replied with a slight nod of his head.
“Good!” said Sir Gleamheart. “Very good indeed! I am going to have to re-provision the quest, of course, but the reason I wanted to talk to the scouts first is that there is no reason you can’t start out right away. The rest of us will follow along in a day or two, as soon as we can replace our lost supplies.” He reached into a pouch at his belt and pulled out some coins. He handed one to Aramil. “This is to replace the one you gave to Trevan.” He then turned to Trevan. “Five more shares go to you.” He placed 5 shiny new gold coins in his hand. “You should have received 6 shares to begin with, and after last night I now have these available. I have a feeling you are going to earn them.”
He then turned away to retrieve some items from his saddle bags. He continued talking, “As you know Aramil, there was some discussion about providing the scouts with horses. I have decided against it. You will be less likely to be noticed on foot, and you might have to abandon your horses should you succeed in locating Abraxas’ lair. For those and other reasons, I am afraid that you will be traveling on foot.” He turned and handed each of them a coil of rope. “These are 50 feet of the finest silk rope.” Trevan had never seen anything like it. It was pure white an only about one quarter of an inch thick. It was so light in his hand he could hardly feel it. “We picked some up on our latest travels. You will find that it will support as much weight as one inch thick hemp. You might find it useful.” He then turned back to his saddle bags and returned with four small, tightly stopper, glass bottles. He gave two bottles to each of them. They were of fine clear glass and their stoppers sealed with wax. “Keep these safe, and always within easy reach. They just might save your life.”
“What are they?” Trevan asked as he examined them closely. One had a reddish liquid and red wax seal, the other was blue tinted with tiny bubbles and a blue wax seal.
“The red one is a potion of fire resistance. I have acquired as many of these as possible. After consuming the entire contents of the bottle it should provide enough protection to save you from a single dragon breath but the protection only lasts about 30 minutes. The blue one is a healing potion. Drink it all for it to work. It should heal all but the most sever damage you might have received. Or perhaps prevent you from dying from a sever wound.
“Aramil, you know the plan. Remember, your primary job is to locate Abraxas’ lair and report back. Under no circumstances are you to engage in combat with that dragon! It will do us no good for you to locate his lair and then get yourselves killed before getting that information back to us.
“Good luck to the two of you. Get your gear together and get underway as quickly as possible. We shouldn’t be more than two days behind you.” With that Sir Gleamheart waved for the others to gather around and he began talking to them about the quest.
Trevan said goodbye to Gimble, someone came from behind Sir Gleamheart and handed Trevan and Aramil each three days trail rations. With that they returned to the inn, retrieved their gear, settled their debts, walked out the north gate, and started along the road leading into the mountains. They had gone less than a mile when Gimble came running up from behind. He had his carpet bag tied into a small bundle and strapped to his back.
“They said they no longer needed a cook,” he said. “So I gave them back their coin and decided to help you guys. Besides, I couldn’t stand the thought of you having to eat trail rations.”
So the three of them began their trek. As they headed off along the trail, a hawk circled and then landed on Trevan’s shoulder.