Finally, following sidetrack after sidetrack; we had at last arrived at Darkholme. Our arrival was not what you would consider a low key affair. Spontaneously materialising within a blazing teleportation circle in the centre of a bustling market square and accompanied by a demon admittedly caused some people to flee. There was however; not a riot - despite our appearance.
So all in all, a restrained response.
Now that we were in Darkholme, we needed to find some gainful employment. No doubt the caravan that had been advertising vacancies for guards had long since departed. We were at a loss as to what to next. After asking some questions, It turned out that the market we were in was named 'The Dirt Market'. The market could only take place here when the ground is muddy! It was traditional. Backward, but traditional.
The market was open for business. Thus the ground was indeed muddy. Luckily it was raining. On closer inspection, it was only raining on The Dirt Market, the rest of Darkholme was dry? Apparently the town council had gone to great lengths to ensure that conditions would always be acceptable for The Dirt Market. Backward, but traditional.
The Fiddler's Quarrel
After asking some questions in The Dirt Market about drinking establishments, we had been given two recommendations. 'Fiddler's Quarrel' and 'Hollyleaf Inn'
Fiddler's Quarrel had been described as: 'A shabby tavern where ruffians go to drown their sorrows and fight each other.'
Randulf considered this a most agreeable description, so Fiddler's Quarry is was!
Fiddler's Quarry was indeed shabby, as well as loud and bawdy, with shady looking clientèle throughout. We sat and ordered drinks, noticing guards on both sides of a back door. Even with the din of the tavern, we could hear voices above it all from beyond that door. Perhaps it was some sort of private function: The noise and the bustle meant curiosity got the better of us and we tried to gain entry, but the guards rebuffed us. Our inquiries about the back room were met with tight lipped silence. We briefly considered muscling our way in, but in the end; it wasn't worth our effort.
Returning to the bar, we chatted with the barkeep. He was having bad luck with the rats in his basement. Who had ever heard of such a thing? The barkeep agreed to pay us a hundred silver to deal with the rat problem. Randulf was keen to investigate, he had not stretched his mighty thews in a while.
Rats in the cellar
Descending into the basement we noticed it was quite dark with something that looked like fire light casting deep shadows across the entire basement? Investigating further we discovered it was actually a camp fire! Sitting around this camp fire were four rat-men and they appeared to be cooking food!
We spoke with the rat-men and they explained that the barkeep had agreed to pay them one hundred silver pieces if they came down into the basement and dealt with the rat problem here. This was starting to sound familiar...
The rat-m/en continued explaining that once they had completed the task, the barkeep refused to pay. Stating that, 'They had done the job too quickly.' So the rat-men had decided to stay in the basement and live here until they had eaten one hundred silver pieces worth of food and drink from the barrels.
Looking around, the basement was filled with barrels of exotic foods and drinks.
We could not see any rats here, so we asked the rat-men and they said there were none, they also pointed out a secret door to us!
The Cursed Monastery
The secret door led to a tunnel, which we followed until it reached an elevator that only went up. Riding the elevator took us up and into some sort of deserted brewery. It was filled with long abandoned and rusted brewing apparatus. The barrels were empty of beer and full of cobwebs.
We exited the brewery into what appeared to be the courtyard of a monastery, also deserted. The courtyard was covered in bones, both animal and human. A quick investigation revealed signs that a very large creature had been moving amongst the bones, perhaps a bear? There was a cloister that ringed the ghoulish courtyard and led to a chapel.
Upon entering, we found the chapel floor covered in a number of giant feathers? There was little else of interest here, so we made for the bell tower.
The way up was blocked by a giant nest! Casting a fly spell, Urham flew up the outside of the bell tower and entered from there. In the giant nest Urham found a strange dormant creature, part bear... and part owl? A bearowl?... No an owlbear!
The owlbear was hibernating and Urham left it undisturbed.
We considered our next move. It was likely the owlbear was responsible for the demise of the victims in the courtyard. But it was now hibernating and was currently a threat no one. Attacking it felt like an unnecessary risk, so we left it be.
The rest of the monastery was unremarkable and we returned to the Fiddler's Quarrel and the barkeep.
We explained to the barkeep that there were no rats in the basement. He claimed that when he had said 'rat problem', it was the rat-men he was talking about. He didn't want to pay them because they had done their job too quickly and he had wanted us to 'deal' with them, following that of course, he then refused to pay us too! Then we asked the barkeep what he knew about the monastery. It was known as 'The Cursed Monastery' and was home to a dragon. Interesting!
During this conversation, talk turned to some place called 'The Spire'. which was apparently home to an 'elf-wizard'.
Next, we asked about boarding for the night and the barkeep informed us that Fiddler's Quarrel was full.
The only choice now was Hollyleaf Inn, hopefully it would have some rooms free.
The Hollyleaf Inn
Hollyleaf Inn was much more upmarket; it was clean and it was civil. Most importantly, it had rooms available and an extensive menu too boot.
I ordered 'Wenna's Mushroom Surprise' and 'Scone Of The Day'.
Urham meanwhile, ordered some 'Moonshine'. As she was drinking it, the barkeep explained that it was distilled by the 'Biletongue Goblins' of 'Halfmoon Forest'. I asked Urham, "So, you've just eaten goblin food? Right?". Urham's expression said everything that needed saying in the conversation about this particular subject.
Sleep beckoned and we retired to our rooms for the night. There was no peaceful slumber or respite for me though. I woke in the middle of the night and stared at the ladder in my room. I didn't remember there being any ladder in my room? The ladder went up through the ceiling and into what I surmised was the attic. I went to the ladder and looked up, it continued through the attic and up out of the building.
I woke the others and showed them the ladder. We had no idea where it might lead, but we decided to collect our gear and go wherever it led. Well, we would go once Urham had collected some extra moonshine for the journey.
The Cloud Castle
Climbing the ladder took us out of the Hollyleaf Inn and up into the night sky. Up through the clouds and eventually on to the clouds. Our ascent ended with us standing on a landscape composed entirely of clouds, in the distance we could see a castle also standing on clouds. There was nothing else on the horizon, so we made for the castle.
It was a strange journey, eerily quiet with a clear night sky above and bright clouds beneath our feet. After a while, we realised that it was no ordinary castle that we were approaching. It was a giant castle. The giant castle had a giant drawbridge which was raised. There was no way we could lower it. Instead we used a mixture of fly spells and rope to get past it.
We were now in the courtyard, the buildings and castle walls towered above us unbelievably. There was light shining out of the highest windows of the keep.
From the courtyard we managed to sneak into a building and it turned out it was the dining hall. We were forced to hide when we heard and felt booming footsteps approach. A giant came into the room, he sat down and had something to eat before getting up and leaving. Once the giant had left, we came out of hiding and began to quietly explore the castle. Our exploration led to the kitchen and pantry. Other than massive foodstuffs, there was nothing of interest in these rooms.
Next we came across a bedroom, the snoring was immense, it seemed to vibrate the very air! Looking around, at the foot of the bed was a sleeping giant chicken. We knew what this might mean and cautiously investigated the chicken. There were indeed giant golden chicken eggs here! We had to have one! There was a problem though, none of us were particularly good at thievery. We did not want to risk waking the giant. Who among us was going to steal the egg? In the end, our solution was for Urham to cast unseen servant and use it to get an egg. It was successful, so we tried for a second egg, that too was a success.
We decided against going for a third egg and thought it a good time to leave. We crossed the cloudy landscape to return to the ladder and back to the Hollyleaf Inn. It was a bit tricky navigating the ladder with a pair of giant eggs, but we managed it.
It was now very late and the night was taking its toll on us, we all returned to our rooms for some well deserved sleep.
Morning came and warm sunlight blazed through gaps in the curtains. I lay there shielding my eyes, contemplating last night's vivid dream and then came to the conclusion: No more 'Wenna's Mushroom Surprise' before bed, who knows what's in the mushroom or what the surprise is?
I sat up and looked at the two giant golden chicken's eggs in my room! Ah?
I immediately went and spoke to the others and told them about the giant golden eggs. They looked at me blankly! I dragged them to my room and pointed the eggs. The blank stares continued. Even though only I remembered the events of last night, we could all agree that the eggs were at least real.
Next we had to decide what to do with them, the general consensus was that we should try to hatch them. It would require a very large bird to do this. There was one choice...
Before our journey back to the Cursed Monastery, Urham went and got some more moonshine for the trip. Then we were off.
Back at the bell tower, the owlbear was still hibernating.
Even though these were giant eggs, I managed to place them beneath the sleeping creature without disturbing it. In twenty one days, the eggs would hatch and we would need to be here, to manage the chicks and the owlbear. Regardless of this: when the owlbear woke from its slumber, it would be in for quite the surprise!
Safely back at the Hollyleaf Inn, we looked on with a mixture of bemusement and trepidation as Urham guzzled down more moonshine like it was going out of fashion. We knew that things could not remain this way: We knew it required another trip to the Goblin Market to get a cure, but we did not know what price we might have to pay. There was a discussion and we agreed on an alternate approach. We had heard that there was a wizard of sorts at The Spire. Perhaps they could help us?
The Spire was a rickety and unstable looking place. At the base there was a bell pull, so we rung it.
It was answered by an elven woman who introduced herself as 'Petunia Rootlocks', Elven wizard.
We discussed Urham's situation with Petunia and a deal was struck. Petunia would provide us with the cure for Urham and we would provide Petunia with a 'manticore tail'.
Wait...a manticore tail?
Petunia went on to explain that 'luckily' for us, a manticore could be found in the Halfmoon Forest. Petunia then told us to wait while she went to the Goblin Market to get the cure. Half an hour later Petunia returned with the cure and gave it to Urham. Petunia also taught Urham a cure poison spell, which would no doubt prove useful in the coming battle.
Upon arrival at Halfmoon Forest, I searched for manticore tracks. These led us to its lair, we had been cautiously approaching and could see that it was entirely distracted by the hapless dead goblin it was feasting on.
Urham cast invisibility on Randulf and I used my Bow of invisibility. This allowed us to approach and ambush the manticore.
After our opening attacks wounded it, the manticore took to the air and out Randulf's reach. It proceeded to pepper the area with poisonous barb attacks and then fled out of the clearing. Luckily I could still pursue and attack with my bow. Urham and Randulf also gave chase on foot, Urham cast a hold person spell on it and it crashed to the ground.
Randulf charged in as the manticore shook off the effects of Urham's spell. The two of them exchanged mighty blows, but the manticore still stood, as did Randulf who had not succumbed to the manticore's poison, both of them were in a bad way Though. Before their battle could draw to a bloody conclusion, Urham cast smite on the manticore and killed it.
We took the tail and any other parts of the creature that might prove useful or valuable.
Returning to The Spire, we handed the tail over to Petunia, she was also happy to buy the other parts of the manticore we had bought with us. Our deal was complete.
A new deal
But perhaps there was a new deal to be struck with Petunia. We knew that when the giant eggs hatched there would probably be an issue with the the owlbear or the giant chicks or both. Perhaps Petunia could help with this? We asked Petunia if she knew of any spells that could be used with animals such as these. Petunia agreed to help us, but of course we had to help her in return, so we agreed.
Petunia told us that we must travel to 'Death Valley' and discover what was killing people. The only thing we had heard about Death Valley was: 'Probably a misnomer. A picnic area popular with courting couples'. Petunia went on to elaborate: People have been dying of the most ridiculous causes. Being stung to death by bees, Falling down a hole and disappearing, or simply dropping dead!
The final thing Petunia told us was that this only seems to affect 'single' people and 'couples' are unaffected.
Death Valley was just outside of Darkholme and seemed a pleasant little spot. A shallow babbling stream wound its gentle way through the valley and we could see various picnicking couples enjoying themselves. Nice enough, but we were on our guard. We spotted a single man and as we did so, he fell over!
We sprinted over and found he was already dead? An examination of his body revealed that he had bled to death after pricking himself on a rose!
We began looking for a potential cause when Urham tripped over on a root and broke her neck. Acting instantly, Egbert cast a heal spell on Urham and even though she didn't immediately regain consciousness, the spell saved her life.
Death Valley it turns out, could be deadly place. We beat a hasty retreat!
Returning to Darkholme, we went looking for sellers of lucky charms and luck potions. We found one such seller; 'Pendolin Washer'. It was rumoured that he was cursed to vanish during any full moon. Considering Pendolin's current predicament, I questioned the value of the items he was selling. So, anyway. Once these pieces of luck based paraphernalia had been bought, it was back to Death Valley and a deadly mystery to solve!
Upon our return, Death Valley seemed it's typical idyllic and tranquil self. Whilst watching the valley, I spotted an unusual looking plant and investigated. I managed to snap my hand back before it was stung by a strange looking centipede of sorts.
Egbert had heard some weird giggling coming from a nearby bush, he immediately hurled a smite spell at it.
Searching the bush revealed a dead pixie wearing a strange red hat. With further investigation we discovered that it was not a normal red hat, it was caked in blood! The pixie's hat had been dipped in blood. It was a redcap!
Now that we knew what we were looking for, I found the redcap's tracks and followed them. The tracks led us to an copse. Amongst the trees were a large grouping of toadstools.
The toadstools all had little doors on them. We set these toadstools on fire and a dozen redcaps angrily emerged.
We issued them an ultimatum: "Leave the valley, go far away and never return!".
One of the redcaps wore a top hat instead of a grisly cap and was clearly their leader, he stepped forward and ordered the redcaps to attack.
Quick as a flash, Randulf pulled the gorgon's head out if it's sack and pointed it at the redcaps. Immediately, ten of them turned to stone and the remaining two were dispatched before they could turn their lethal spells on us.
"These," said Randulf happily as he scooped the petrified redcaps into a sack. "Will fetch a good price as garden gnomes at the market!".
Back at The Spire, Petunia was pleased at the outcome.
Randulf gifted Petunia with one of his gnomes, but Petunia insisted on paying for it. Finally Petunia taught the mages the charm creature spell.
We were ready for the hatching of the giant golden chicken eggs!
In Darkest Warrens, an explanation
In Darkest Warrens a very light RPG, condensed into 2 pages or so.
PCs have 4 stats, each with an associated value. All tasks are assigned to one of these 4 stats. To succeed, all a player needs to do is roll equal to or above the value (So lower values are better.).
There are 5 professions, each profession grants a player a special ability that they can use once per combat
Magic is equally as simple and elegant. Magic users can cast each spell they know once per combat, but if they fail to cast it, they don't lose the spell and can try to cast it again (Until they succeed at it.).
I could write more, but it would probably end up longer than the actual rules.
Suffice to say that these rules are designed for quick 'pick-up-and-play' fun and not long term play.
So on with adventure and exploration!
Because of lockdown we're playing over Skype, a new experience for us. (No Mark for this episode).
Player Handout #1 What you know about Darkholme.
THE BROKEN KIRK
Once a grand church, now a barely rebuilt
ruin. The last Priests of the Seven Tongues have a base here.
A shabby tavern where ruffians go to drown their sorrows and fight each other.
THE OBSIDIAN TOWER
Home to the Regent of Darkholme, Duke
A rather pleasant Inn (for Darkholme) and a
favourite of travellers passing through.
Captain Moon Sirencall.
THE DIRT MARKET
Only ever takes place in the muddy square when it rains.
Sitting a mile out of the town, flanking the main trade road, the haunt of the Biletongue goblins.
The docks are home to sailors, ruffians and general ne'er-do-wells.
THE SEVEN FINGERS
Seven standing stones on the outskirts of the town.
A gravesite where hundreds were buried after the Night War.
Owned by a lonely elf mage called Petunia Rootlocks.
A lane in the southern part of the city where visitors get mugged.
A hill of varied skulls to the north of the city.
Probably a misnomer. A picnic area popular with courting couples
Adding your blood to the pit acts like a wishing well, apparently.
Player Handout #2 The Hollyleaf Inn Menu
This was posted on Reddit but I can't find the original to credit the author. I changed some of the items to reflect the local area. The choice of fillings in the owlbear omlette is, of course, owl or bear.
The Spire, home of Petunia Rootlocks
Pendolin Washer, purveyor of lucky charms
The Redcap village
Buy your own copy of In Darkest Warrens for not much money
These write-ups are taken from Three Spellcasters and a Dwarf